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Somali market partners with food bank to provide hundreds of free meals a day

Friday March 29, 2024

Madina Cuisine & Market Owner Mahad Abdulle bags up someone’s order at his restaurant, which is a partner kitchen in the Kitchen Coalition. (Colton Kemp/southernminn.com) 

A partnership between a local Somali market and a regional food bank is providing 2,000 free meals a week in Faribault during Ramadan. The owner of the local Somali market opted to pay for and serve another 1,500 meals on top of that, bringing the weekly total to 3,500 meals served to the community.

Madina Cuisine & Market, a Somali market and eatery in downtown Faribault, has teamed up with Channel One Regional Food Bank to serve the meals to community members gathering at the mosque for sundown prayer, after which Muslims break their daytime fast.

The partnership is part of the Kitchen Coalition. It was started by Second Harvest during the pandemic, according to Channel One Food Development Manager Genna Devitt. Channel One joined in November of 2021. Second Harvest Northern Lakes in Duluth also joined later.

“We found that people of color and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities face hunger, food insecurity, at a much higher rate than other communities,” Devitt said. “So, we always try to support those in need, wherever the most need is, and match them up with culturally connected meals. They can get meals that are specifically made for them.”

The meals come from “partner kitchens,” which range from a comfort-food restaurant in Rochester to a Mexican restaurant in Austin. Almost 100 nonprofits across the state serve as distribution partners.

According to the program’s webpage, 25,000 meals are served for free throughout the state every week. To date, the webpage says the program has provided communities with more than 5 million meals, made for and by local communities.

When Channel One joined in on the program, one of the nonprofits it established as a distribution partner was Somali Community Resettlement Services in Faribault. That nonprofit suggested Medina as a partner kitchen. The market’s owner, Mahad Abdulle, agreed, joining the program in 2022.

“Mahad has been a great partner to work with,” Devitt said. “He is obviously so connected to the community that he’s serving. So I think that is something that is really beneficial, when the restaurant has that personal connection to the community. I think that means a lot to both groups.”

However, the vast majority of the Somali community is in the midst of Ramadan, the monthlong holiday when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from sunup to sundown for 30 days straight. So, lunch is served a little later than usual this month.

The food is taken to the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the local mosque, where many Faribault Muslims gather for sundown prayer. After the prayer, the community feasts on sambusas and other culturally specific foods provided by Madina.

Supper time isn’t the only part of the operation that is slightly different during Ramadan.

Praise through service

Channel One and the other coordinating organizations fund the program with donations from businesses and private citizens. Not only do they provide some ingredients for the restaurant-style meals, but they also pay the labor and overhead costs to prepare 500 meals served at the restaurant on Thursdays and Fridays.

During Ramadan, the coalition pays for four days a week. Abdulle decided to step up to provide 500 free meals seven days a week.

“We start early,” Abdulle said. “In the morning, we cook for the restaurant. Afternoon, we cook for the Somali community. … I know Ramadan is very hard. It’s very difficult, especially for my cooks. They cook all day but can’t eat.”

For the extra three days, his business makes the meals and provides them to the community on his own dime.

“That’s what we believe,” Abdulle said. “God helps you if you donate (to the community).”

Devitt said she’s not surprised by Abdulle’s generosity.

“Mahad, he’s always very willing to do extra for his community,” she said. “And he wants to do it. But I know it is so much to take on, so I think it’s great that he’s doing that.”


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