Lebanon News

Appetite for protest: Volunteers, companies distribute free food

A man is seen giving out laban to protesters in Downtown Beirut. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: As Lebanon’s main squares have been the stage of regular demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people for the last week, free food and beverages have been regularly distributed to the crowds. Some are purchased while others are donated.

Oct. 17 marked the first day of the nationwide uprising.

Since then, people have been in the streets daily, driving many vendors to set up kiosks across the country’s popular squares.

But the vendors were not alone.

Hallab, one of the country’s most popular sweetshops, has so far given out 21,000 pieces of knefeh in Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square.

Tripoli has become known as the “The bride of the revolution.”

“We did what we believed in through supporting the people on the streets. ... It is our duty to support them, and we did what we could,” Bilal Yehya, Hallab’s public relations director, told The Daily Star.

In Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square, two girls from the “4 All Causes” initiative were distributing manakeesh and cupcakes to the protesters standing outside Downtown’s Mohammad al-Amine Mosque.

“We [give] for the people who have been here for a week fighting for our country. We are here to help them,” Emmanuelle Zovighian said.

To purchase the food, Zovighian said, the organization collected donations through social media platforms.

The protesters in Martyrs’ Square were also surrounded by a couple of trucks with giant speakers playing songs. The manager at one truck parked facing the Downtown mosque said it had been brought in through an “independent initiative.”

“Everyone wants to make a voice or a certain opinion heard. We are reflecting Beirut’s civilized side as we are not road blockers,” Mohammad Fouani, an engineering student at the Lebanese International University, said.

The Sabaa Party also had a tent, gazebos and a stage set up near the Martyrs’ Square statue. It brought in purple chairs and had juice boxes, water bottles and food.

“We are trying to organize the street’s [movement]. We provide what the people need, even in Nabatieh and other areas,” Imane Ghannam, the party’s secretary, said.

The stage, tent and other equipment were made possible through donations and volunteers, Ghannam said. “Everyone is giving as much as they can. Someone brings in food, someone cooks ... and they are not necessarily party members.”

She said since Thursday there had been “intruders trying to disturb but we are trying to raise our voice.”

Perpendicular to the Sabaa Party stage, a stage and a tent belonging to the military veterans were set up.

“We hold training courses for officers with each course brings together 200 to 300 people and we charge LL50,000 [$33] from each one, and this is what we are using,” retired Brig. Gen. Joseph al-Asmar told The Daily Star.

The veterans have a tent and a gazebo beside it.

The stage is used to play “patriotic songs,” according to Asmar. The group supplies its members with water and food and does not distribute anything.

Since the uprising started, more than 50 volunteers have gathered each morning in Beirut’s Downtown to clean the trash from the previous day’s protest.

During their daily initiative, Dunkin’ Donuts distributes dozens of donuts to the group cleaning the area. “We are giving them donuts to continue what they are doing,” Dunkin’s Food and Beverage Manager Jamal Atwi told The Daily Star.

As the volunteers clean out the streets and sort the waste, Dunkin Donut’s employees hand them donuts with a wide smile.

“We’re spreading happiness for everyone,” one of them said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 26, 2019, on page 2.




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