Coquitlam restaurateurs Malik and Jamila Malikzada have felt the warm embrace of community.
But, as refugees from the civil war in Afghanistan, they’ve also experienced how tenuous that can be.
Since finding their feet and rebuilding their lives in Coquitlam, the Malikzadas have not only nourished their customers with a unique fusion of Afghan, Indian and Greek cuisine they serve at their restaurant, Jamila’s Kitchen, they’ve also nurtured them as they have come through their doors.
That effort has taken on new urgency with so many of them struggling through the financial uncertainties and anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Malikzadas, who’ve quietly served free meals to people in need through their No Money, No Worries initiative since 2017, extended the courtesy to frontline workers and first responders in the early weeks of the public health crisis. Recently, they spent an entire Monday cooking and then delivering 200 meals for staff at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.
With schools back in session in a limited fashion, Malik said he’s reached out to local principals to distribute cards to needy families that can be discreetly redeemed for a free meal. He’s also dropped some off at local churches.
He said it’s hard not to keep on helping, even as he has to carefully manage his own business so suppliers can be paid and the rent covered. He said it’s about paying it forward and building a foundation that can be sustained through thick and thin.
“Community has always been important,” he said. “We’ve stood on the shoulders of others, and now we need to create the opportunity for the next generation to stand on our shoulders.”
The Malikzadas said they really gained their love and appreciation for community through their own struggles, first to escape the war in Afghanistan in 1995, and then living and working as refugees in Pakistan for six years before coming to Canada.
“When we see community as the human community, it brings a spark,” Malik said.
And while the family’s latest efforts have necessitated a dip into their own savings, he said it’s worth it.
“This is exactly the time, when we face difficulties in life,” he said. “Every morning you wake up, you feel good.”