By Sonya Rehman
Initiated this year, the social media initiative, Pending Meal, spearheaded by the young advertising professional, Sarah Rizvi, has garnered immense popularity. This week, Masala! chats with Sarah about her social welfare project and the importance of paying it forward.
How does Pending Meal work?
The idea or concept behind Pending Meal is very simple. This social media initiative involves a person going to any restaurant of their choice and paying for a meal that can then be given to anyone who is less fortunate or in need of a meal. The entire process is based on goodwill. You are trusting the restaurant to take your money and then use it to feed someone. We understand a lot of people might not be comfortable with leaving money behind, so we always tell them that they can feed people in front of them, and make sure the money has been used in the right way. We recommend people to go to restaurants and eateries in areas where you know people will be coming to eat. Blue-collared workers, cleaning staff in malls, parking lots, and building cleaners, etc; these workers might be able to pay for their own meals, but by doing a Pending Meal, you’re helping them have decent food and helping them save on food expenditures as well.
What inspired you to initiate Pending Meal?
I was going to work in the morning with my dad when he told me how he read about this cafe in Naples that was working on an idea of ‘suspended coffee.’ There, anyone would come buy their own coffee, and then pay for an extra one – which could then be given to anyone who was less fortunate. The pending coffee cafe became so popular, that anyone could go in and ask for a ‘pending coffee.’ While discussing this, we thought, why not start a similar initiative here in the UAE? Why stop at coffee, why can’t it be a meal? There are thousands of people working here who could do with a paid meal.
What was the response like when you went live on social media?
The response we received was phenomenal! We made a page on Facebook and received over 1,000 fans in less than two weeks. People were genuinely interested and loved the idea of doing charity whenever they wanted to. We started receiving photos and stories from people in the UAE from different cafes and restaurants in Sharjah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc. During the first month itself, we received lots of messages of support from people living outside the UAE as well. Many wanted to know about partnered restaurants and where they could donate money, but we made them understand that the idea is a community initiative. We are not a charity organization, nor do we take any donations as well. We are simply motivating people to go and do an act of kindness whenever they see someone in need.
How many Pending Meals have you initiated since you launched this wonderful social welfare project?
A lot of friends and people from social media have asked me to visit them whenever they have paid for Pending Meals in different restaurants. The first one was actually done by my father at this place near Rolla Park in Sharjah by the name of Al Hur Restaurant. We asked the owner how much it would cost to feed someone a proper meal, and he said AED 10 per person. We gave him AED 100 and he said, you know what, you’re doing such a nice thing, I’ll do something in return as well. He ended up feeding 15 people from that money instead of 10! That was enough to motivate us. We shared the story on our page and that is where it all began. Since April till now, we’ve received tons of contributors and if I can give a rough figure at the top of my head, we’ve given away over 2,000 pending meals.
Can anyone sign up to be a Pending Meal volunteer?
There is really no volunteering! We’re all supposed to be giving back to the community. I know it’s easy to give or donate money to someone, but we really want people to go themselves, to go through the experience. If they can, sit with these people, listen to their stories, and not make them feel as if you’re doing them a favour.
What has it been like so far?
One of my friends went to a mall in Dubai and was waiting in line at a restaurant in the food court when he saw the cleaning staff standing and waiting for people to get done. He approached one of the staff members and asked him if he had already had dinner. The man said no, so my friend asked him how many people were working during that shift. He got to know there were a total of five. The man behind the counter who was packing the food was observing everything, and when my friend gave the order for the group, the man added extra food in their packages. It was so nice.
What do you have mapped out for the remaining part of the year?
We’ve been getting approached by a lot of restaurants who seem so keen to take this initiative further. Most of them either give discounted meals, some add more to the meal and some ask for matching the money and adding extra meals from their end. However, all being said and done, I really hope to take this initiative further.
Do you think more young people like yourself in the region ought to take part in social welfare activities?
I don’t think age matters here and to be honest, everyone should take part in giving back to the community. By paying for just one meal for someone, you’ve made a difference. There is really nothing better than feeding someone who cannot afford to eat a decent meal. Imagine if everyone starts to do their part, this world would be such a happy place.