By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> A local vegan cook stepped up to the plate and decided to donate his services when he saw a need to feed the homeless.
iCreate Café owner Ashraf Khalil prepares both vegan and vegetarian dishes at his Pottstown restaurant. The food also has a Mediterranean flavor since he’s a native of Syria. Through a customer, Khalil learned that Christ Episcopal Church would provide shelter and food for the homeless this December. He decided to lend a hand by preparing and serving a vegan meal every Tuesday night of the month.
“They call it the vegetarian fest,” Khalil said.
Each week he creates healthy dishes for about 30 people without a home. The fresh salad is made with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, parsley and mint. Stuffed grape leaves are filled with rice. A grilled eggplant dip called baba ghannoj is served with sesame seed flat breads. The main dish is full of beans or chickpeas for protein. Khalil said the homeless don’t always get an opportunity to eat meals with fresh ingredients. He said people at the shelter are able to experience something different with the plant-based meal he cooks.
The homeless are sheltered and fed at Christ Episcopal Church this month as part of a roving shelter that involves several local churches. St. John’s United Church of Christ will open their doors next month for those in need. The Ministries at Main Street Homeless Shelter organizes the travelling service from November through the beginning of May.
Khalil said he provided food for the shelter last year as well. He said he’s showing the homeless that people care. Khalil remembers seeing people suffer in Syria and as a child was taught to be generous. He’s always happy to hear that other countries are helping to host Syrian refugees and continues to pray for those still there.
“You help the people that are in need,” he said.
Khalil was in need himself when his café was at risk of being shut down last year. Customers spoke on Khalil’s behalf at a borough zoning board meeting and he was able to keep the restaurant open.
“People came and supported my business. People helped me so now I want to give back to the community,” he said.
Khalil also provides for the homeless because they are people just like him. He said anyone can suddenly find themselves without a home. People who are middle class can lose their job then suddenly lose everything else, Khalil said.
“If I don’t pay my mortgage for one month then I will be on the street,” he said. “So you want to show them (the homeless) some empathy and show them that you care.”
Followers of the iCreate Café Facebook showed that December truly is the season of giving when they responded to Khalil’s post about volunteers needed for the shelter.
“It was shared like crazy,” he said. “It made me feel really good.”
Khalil said he offered several ways that people in the community could help. He suggested making a vegan dish or dessert, helping him prepare the meal for the homeless or just supporting the café so he could continue to donate food to the shelter.
“Some people really want to help but they don’t know how,” Khalil said.
Barbara Kosciewicz of High Street Yoga and Wellness Center was one of the people who responded to Khalil’s Facebook post for volunteers. She made a vegan dessert to go along with Khalil’s theme for the meal.
“Everyone was really appreciative and really grateful,” she said. “Everyone was willing to try things they never had before.”
Khalil said the shelter is always looking for volunteers and he encourages people just to spend time with the homeless.
Kork Moyer, Pastor of Still Water Grace Brethren Church, helped start the Ministries at Main Street shelter. Moyer said originally just meals were served to the homeless in Pottstown but then there was a real need to house those people. With the help of several churches and community members, the homeless have a warm place to stay in Pottstown for six months of the year.
Moyer said all different types of organizations and people have come together to help those in need. He said they are now able to provide more quality food because of volunteers like Khalil.
“We started off giving people donuts because they were the leftovers that we could get from one of the supermarkets,” Moyer said.
“Historically … homeless people get the worst food,” he said adding that a lot of the foods they end up with are rich in sugar.
Moyer said it’s a health risk when the homeless eat only junk food then go out into the elements. He said he really appreciates Khalil using his café to offer healthy foods to the homeless.
“Ash is my hero. He’s like one of the best things to happen in Pottstown,” he said. “God’s people really do come together when there’s a need.”
Moyer said the homeless help churches and others in the community realize there’s always a way to be more generous and sacrifice for those with less. He said it’s about more than charity but about how you live everyday of your life.
“You do a lifestyle of generosity and that eliminates the need for charity,” Moyer said.
Khalil said helping the homeless and those less fortunate isn’t church work but something that everyone should help with.
“It just makes you feel better about humanity,” he said.