NORTH MANKATO – After a second round of executive orders that led to the closure of the new J’s Sambusa, its owner found a philanthropic partner to help the restaurant distribute thousands of free meals every day.
Jamila Ibrahim brought a taste of her homeland to the region in July, opening a restaurant in North Mankato serving Somali cuisine. A few months later, she and other restaurateurs were ordered to close diners inside.
Now, instead of only selling take-out, J’s Sambusa distributes meals to any family in need.
Only one question is asked each morning when vehicles stop in front of the restaurant at 503 Belgrade Ave. : “How many children?
A restaurant employee comes in and returns moments later with a hot lunch as well as a cold breakfast for the next day.
Monday’s lunch of chicken, rice and vegetables was similar to what can be found on the menu at J’s Sambusa. Other days there are American classics like chicken nuggets and fries.
To keep the line moving and to minimize container waste, lunches are prepared ahead of time in trays of four to five servings. Large families receive two trays; small families can have leftovers.
For each child there is also a bag with cereals and fruit. Mondays and Thursdays a gallon of milk is also donated.
There are no eligibility requirements or strict accounting for lunch portions.
Parents can come as often as they need help getting food on their tables, says Asad Abshir, who oversees the distributions seven days a week.
The goal is to help feed the children while they learn at home. But parents can also take advantage of free lunches. And people can request additional portions to share with neighbors who don’t have a way to get to the restaurant themselves, Abshir said.
A Minneapolis-based organization called Stigma Free provides the food and pays the dozen of J’s Sambusa employees who help Abshir and Ibrahim prepare and distribute the food.
When Ibrahim heard that the organization was looking for distribution partners, she said she decided it would be a good opportunity to give back to her community.
Ibrahim is in no rush to reopen to paying customers as soon as the indoor dining restriction is lifted. She would rather continue the partnership with Stigma Free.
No end date for free food distributions has been set, Abshir said. It started in mid-December and will continue at least until schools in the area welcome children into their buildings.
School districts also offer free breakfasts and lunches in bags at some sites during distance learning, with pre-registration required. Distribution at J’s Sambusa offers another barrier-free option, Abshir said.
At J’s Sambusa, Abshir said they distribute around 600 meal trays, serving up to 3,000 people a day. They open at 9 a.m. and go until there is no food left – usually around 12:30 p.m.
Leftovers are donated to Mankato organizations that serve homeless people.