Champion of change: Waris Malik brings dignity into the soup kitchenWritten by Nadifa Ahmed
When Waris Malik and his team of volunteers from the Islamic Foundation of Toronto set out to form a community soup kitchen back in 2005, they had little idea that their efforts would lead to the establishment of the first free restaurant-style soup kitchen in Canada.
It was during his involvement with relief efforts for the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster when Mr. Malik realized that in addition to what was being done overseas, there was need at home as well, right in his own community: “We thought, if we have done so much for overseas efforts, why don't we do something for our own city and our own country?” And thus Hot Soup Day was developed.
Each Saturday for nearly six years running, the cafeteria of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto's mosque is transformed into a welcoming, cozy place for anyone regardless of faith or income level to go and enjoy a full course meal and the hospitality of a well-trained volunteer kitchen and restaurant crew.
Mr. Malik and his team took a no-holds-barred approach when it came to giving the place an authentic restaurant feel; guests are served right at their own tables, complete with neat table cloths, flowers, menus and table numbers. Volunteers serve in all the important restaurant functions, including hosts, waiters, ushers, chefs, and others. They even deliver food all over the city to individuals and families in need every week.
Despite low attendance and some hesitancy about Hot Soup Day's mosque setting at first, encouragement and persistence from Mr. Malik and his team led to the program becoming well-known in the Toronto region, and they now serve around 750 meals every Saturday.
The program has also helped to bring the Muslim community together, as Mr. Malik explains; “It has been taken as a very positive effort by the Muslim community. We are as much a part of the wider community as anyone else, and when we have social work programs, it's not restricted to our own group, it's open to everyone. It has helped to build bridges and understanding. Once people experience what goes on, we get a very positive response from them to be a part of this or to be connected to it.”
Mr. Malik and his team took a no-holds-barred approach when it came to giving the place an authentic restaurant feel; guests are served right at their own tables, complete with neat table cloths, flowers, menus and table numbers.
Mr. Malik and his team liaise not only with Muslims but with many organizations and faith groups, youth groups, city officials and community leaders to make Hot Soup Day possible. The project has received recognition and praise from many corners of the Toronto community, including the Mayor David Miller, who wrote a letter to encourage and thank Mr. Malik and his team for their efforts.
Most recently, Waris Malik was featured on CBC's Champions of Change initiative which recognizes individuals all over the country who are dedicated to a cause and are making their community a better place. He was honored as a Top 50 finalist. About his nomination, Mr. Malik said: “There are so many people out there doing great things and I'm humbled to be recognized.”
Due to its astounding success, Hot Soup Day is now being turned into the “world's first free franchise”, with a detailed start-up kit developed by Mr. Malik and his team which is available to any group that would like to create its own similar project.
The project is funded by the Islamic Foundation of Toronto in addition to private contributions from community members.
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