CHERRY HILL, N.J. - On a Friday night, Norma’s Mediterranean Restaurant in Cherry Hill is slamming, the grill is sizzling and the orders are stacking. Chef and owner Elias Bitar is at the helm dominating the 300 square foot kitchen, but, his daily routine just got bigger — much bigger.
Bitar is now tasked with preparing, assembling and serving thousands of meals a day to Afghan refugees arriving in our area. It’s a gratifying job that he says is much bigger than food.
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"It feels that in a tiny way, we are fighting some wrongs and healing some wounds," Bitar said.
It’s a special project that he says seemed unlikely at first. A government contractor asked the small, family-owned business to prepare 4,000 to 5,000 meals a day.
Bitar charged, "Not possible! That’s what we do in a month."
But creativity and partnerships kicked in.
Norma’s Mediterranean Restaurant and Philabundance are teaming up to provide meals to Afghan refugees.
Norma’s is teaming up with Philabundance and working out of their production-sized kitchen in South Philadelphia with their in-house chefs, students and volunteers. They’re all working together to give Afghan refugees halal meats and spices of which their taste buds are more familiar.
"All if the reports I got back, there was a different level of appreciation for the food we made," Bitar said.
Afghan customer Ibrahim Safi says he understands first-hand the challenges these evacuees are facing. He works at joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as an interpreter helping afghan evacuees settle in and feel supported.
"I’ve been seeing a lot of kids high-five soldiers, appreciate them, say "hello" and "hi", Safi said. "They are so happy and excited right now."