Thousands fed as Edmonton restaurant nears a year of free meals


What began as a small initiative aimed at helping hungry people at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic 10 months ago has since dished out thousands of free meals.

"I thought, 'It will run for a month or two and we will all fight off [COVID-19] and we will be back to normal,'" said Varinder Bhullar, president of Green Scholars of Alberta, an Edmonton non-profit that teaches kids about their Punjabi and Gujarati cultural roots.

"I would have never thought that we would be still fighting [COVID-19] when we started."

In April 2020, Bhullar approached Dil-E-Punjab's owner, Imran Javaid, with the idea for the free meals. They knew each other through mutual friends. Bhullar had relied on the restaurant to cater some of his business events.

Tucked into a strip mall in the Mill Woods neighbourhood of Crawford Plains, Dil-E-Punjab is now serving more than 100 free meals a day to anyone who asks. The meals are handed out seven days a week, between 6 and 7 p.m. 

"Last month we gave 3,400-plus meals," Bhullar told CBC News.

All they ask is that people let them know they're coming, so they can make sure they have enough.

When they first started on April 10, 2020, they were handing out about 40 meals a day. Bhullar said media coverage and social media helped get the word out.

"It was spreading to people that need it as well as spreading to people who want to help," Bhullar said. 

"So this is not me and Imran doing it, this is the community who is doing it. This is a community project and we have become a bigger family now."