Dubai - “You have no idea how good it feels when you feed someone.”
Sarah Rizvi would know. The 27-year-old Pakistani was behind the social media initiative Pending Meal that has done really well since its inception two months ago.
The idea behind Pending Meal is deceptively simple: Pay in advance for a meal so that someone else can eat for free.
Rizvi, a media professional working with an ad agency in Dubai, decided to start a Facebook page after a conversation with her father, sitting in their car.
“He told me about a coffee shop in Naples that was using the concept of ‘suspended coffee’. People would pay for their own coffee along with a ‘suspended coffee’. Those who were poor or hungry could walk in later and ask if there was a suspended coffee they could drink,” she said.
She decided to adapt the concept to the UAE and created a Facebook page named “Pending meal”. Soon, thousands of users had liked her page and she was getting comments from people across the country sharing their experience of paying for a pending meal.
“There is a popular cafeteria near my home in Sharjah. They told me they had already been doing something along those lines and would be more than happy to offer the option of paying for a pending meal to its customers,” she said.
Comments from participants on Facebook aren’t just from the UAE though. A few Facebook users from Sri Lanka and Karachi, Pakistan also wrote in with their experience of participating in the idea.
The Facebook page is filled with such experiences from residents who decided to approach restaurants to pay for people’s food.
Rizvi, however, is quick to clarify that Pending Meal isn’t a charity initiative.
“I want people to know that I am not collecting money on behalf of anyone. The idea behind Pending Meal is to encourage people to do their bit by paying for a meal at any restaurant or café of their choice. Later, someone who is in need of it can eat for free,” she said.
Rizvi urged residents to chip in with little contributions and not feel obligated to feed a large group of people.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, you don’t need to necessarily pay for 20-30 people. Just pay for one person’s meal.”
The testimonies of residents on her Facebook page are proof of how such simple ideas can go viral.
One such Good Samaritan, Pirzan Turel, decided to approach a fried chicken restaurant to ask if they would like to get involved.
Turel, a copywriter working with an ad agency in Dubai, said he was quite nervous walking up to the counter but the response he received was overwhelmingly positive.
“When you explain the idea to them they are pretty cool about it. Any restaurant would appreciate the help. It’s all about taking the first step. At the end of the day it is an initiative to end hunger so why would anyone not help?” Turel said.
He plans to continue the work and approach different restaurants in order to spread the word.
“Sometimes you go to a restaurant and they take their own measures to support what you are doing. For example, you might pay for the meal and the restaurant owner decides to add tea to the meal from their end. That definitely is a bonus,” he said.
How can people contribute?
Rizvi said people are still confused about how they can join the initiative. According to her, people don’t need to follow any particular process. It’s all about making sure people around you have had their meal.
“The other day I was eating at a food court. I asked the person cleaning my table if he had had dinner. When he said no, I took him to a restaurant and paid for his meal. It’s something you can do every week and it makes a difference.”
As for approaching a restaurant for a Pending Meal, Rizvi said residents could pick any restaurant of their choice but recommended going to places near workers’ accomodations.
“It is better to approach such restaurants because that’s where the workers end up going anyway,” she said.
As for the money, according to Rizvi, the entire agreement is a trust bond between the person paying for the meal and the restaurant. With people paying for the food in full, there is often no resistance from restaurant owners. Instead, most get actively involved and try to do their bit in contributing to the cause. Some offer discounts to those paying for a pending meal, others match the donations from their customers as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts.
“The whole idea is based on good will from the start to the end,” Rizvi added
— The writer is a trainee with Gulf News at the Readers Desk