Meet the Woman Who Turned Her Restaurant Into a Food Pantry

Opening a restaurant in Brooklyn was a dream come true for Nowshin Ali. An immigrant from India, she missed her native food, and the restaurant allowed her to continue enjoying it while sharing the signature dishes with others. When the pandemic struck, however, she shifted her focus and transformed her restaurant into a food bank to serve hungry families.

“If I am the lucky one who can help them, then why not?” she shares. “If I can make a difference in the life of even a single person, I feel that it’s worth it to go ahead and do it.”

Video Transcript

Meet Nowshin: restaurant owner

Brooklyn, New York

Nowshin Ali: When I came to America, we were missing our food a lot. So we started Jalsa Grill because we wanted to eat our food. It is serving us and, in the process, it’s serving the people. It’s our dream restaurant. It’s mine and Anurag’s dream restaurant.

When the pandemic hit New York, thousands of families suddenly couldn’t afford food.

The craziness started actually from January, and you could see a panic-buying going around. Everything was out of stock in the grocery stores. And then, I started meeting women who are very, very poor, and I could hear them saying that they don’t have money to stock up. Firstly, they don’t find anything. Then there was price gouging. So we decided that we’ll start a GoFundMe campaign to support them. We began with an initial goal of 3,000 dollars, but we touched around 20,000 dollars within 10 days.

Nowshin decided to help by turning her restaurant into a food pantry.

Our target was to serve at least 50 families or 40 families each day. But every minute, I used to get 30 to 40 phone calls requesting deliveries. It was a crazy time for us.

(Nowshin and volunteers box up food and set up tables for food line)

Today, Nowshin and her volunteers will provide food boxes to 900 families.

We worked very hard. It was very tiring, but I thought it was worth it because it was helping so many people.

(People wait in long lines outside of Nowshin’s restaurant for food)

We are all equals. Sometimes I need people, and sometimes people need me. If you see, we have volunteers. I need them. And then, we have people who we are serving. And on that day, on September 1st, we had a few volunteers who we had served before. And they had the need at that time, but they don’t have the need now. They’re back to work. And they come here to volunteer. So I feel that’s beautiful.

If I am the lucky one who can help them, then why not? I should be going ahead and helping them. We all are here and we stand and we play the blame game and that, “Oh, this is not happening,” “That’s not happening,” “Somebody should do it”. So, at least, at one point, you should stand and think that that somebody can be me. And by my work or by my efforts, if I can make a difference in the life of even a single person, I feel that it’s worth it to go ahead and do it.

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