Toronto restaurant giving away free meals to those who are 'hungry and have no money'

The front window of the restaurant is covered in a patchwork of meal tickets, each representing a prepaid meal for those in need

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Rajesh Chamoli was off to a late start on Tuesday morning.

The owner and operator of Samaira’s Kitchen in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, Chamoli had spent a hectic morning helping his wife care for their newborn who had fallen ill.

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When he arrived at the restaurant, which is known for its burgers and pizzas, Chamoli quickly got busy in the kitchen, chopping up fresh vegetables, making beef patties and baking fresh burger buns.

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“Everything is homemade from scratch,” he says. “So it’s very, very labour intensive.”

But it’s not just the food that’s been drawing attention to Samaira’s. Over the last week, the front window of the small restaurant has taken on a new look. It is covered in a patchwork of meal tickets, each representing a prepaid meal for those in need.

“If you are hungry and have no money these meals have been paid for in advance,” read a sign taped up on the window.

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The first receipts went up eight days ago. Since then, Chamoli says the donations have provided about 300 meals. He says the initiative is in response to the growing issue of food insecurity in the community.

“We are seeing so many people becoming homeless and people are not able to put food on the table. They can’t pay rent but people are working so hard. So it’s really, really difficult, especially these past few years,” he says.

According to the latest figures from Statistics Canada, around seven million Canadians struggled with hunger last year. Eighteen per cent of families reported experiencing food insecurity in 2022, up from 16 per cent in 2021.

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Meal tickets
The front window of Samaira’s Kitchen. Photo by Submitted

In Leslieville, it didn’t take long for the community to notice Chamoli’s initiative. Shortly after taping up the first round of receipts, customers started asking how they could contribute.

“Now customer donations are coming in,” he says. “They pay for meals and we put it up in the window. Then whoever is in need, they just grab a ticket from the window and give it to us and we prepare the meal.”

Since the campaign started, not a day has passed without more receipts being added to the collection.

“This is purely only because of the community,” he says. “The community here is amazing.”

Chamoli, who has been running the restaurant for almost seven years, has become familiar with many of his customers. Recently, one in particular stood out.

A woman entered the restaurant and said she hadn’t eaten in five days. She asked for a Greek salad, fries and the “Machine Gun” burger, a 5oz homemade beef patty, with cheddar cheese, bacon, grilled jalapenos and mushrooms and chipotle aioli.

“I said ‘No problem, it’s on the house, don’t worry, just enjoy having a meal,’” Chamoli says.

But the woman insisted on paying.

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“She said she had some money and wanted to pay for it. And she also bought a breakfast sandwich for the window. So I’m just mesmerized by people like that,” he says.

“There are so many similar incidents. We see tears of joy and happiness in people when they get support.”

Before opening Samaira’s Kitchen, Chamoli was a chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. He left in 2017 to try his hand at entrepreneurship but the pandemic struck hard, and the restaurant barely survived.

About a week before the pandemic began, they closed down to renovate and introduce a new, more elaborate menu.

Initially, they thought they’d be up and running again in a month. That month quickly turned into several and the bills mounted as they worked to get the restaurant reopened.

Now, with those restrictions in the rear-view, Chamoli says he is grateful to the community that has continued to support the business.

“I just want to say thank you,” he says. “When you deal with people, you learn every day. And it’s just amazing how people who don’t have the money, how big of a heart they have.”

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