Love, Violence, and a Bowl of Tabbouleh: How the Explosion In Lebanon Inspired Us to Act
"In the hour that we were in Five Points, we raise over $300"
“I was about to light my cigarette when I looked out the window
and saw what you were doing. And rather than lighting my
cigarette, I came down to see what ya’ll were up to and now I’m
helping. If that isn’t a sign from a higher power, then I don’t know what
Tears glistened in all of our eyes when Shelly, our new Five Points
neighborhood friend and ally, spoke these words. I could have sworn, that for
just a moment, smoke cleared over the sky in downtown Denver, and a bit of
light came shining through.
August 4th, 2020. Two weeks prior:
“Alex, did you see this shit? This was no accident - either a malicious attack,
or negligent, incompetent leadership. I’m fed up with this bullshit. Something
needs to change.” It’s my friend Jordan. 3 hours ago, the port in Beirut,
Lebanon caught fire and exploded in a surreal catastrophe, killing 181,
injuring 6,000, and leaving more than 300,000 people homeless. Jordan is
first generation Lebanese, and his anger seems justified. In a country where
hospitals were already short on medical supplies and staff due to COVID,
where massive inflation and a corrupt government had already suffocated its
citizens, and the poverty rate had risen 50% in months before the explosion, I
feel the frustration alongside Jordan. I just wish I knew what to do.
August 11th, 2020. One week prior:
“Jordan, what if we did something for Lebanon? Something that could raise
awareness - and maybe money - for what’s happening there? What if we
transform this anger into light, into a movement?” I’m with Jordan now,
gauging his energy, watching his reaction to what I’m saying. He looks at me
with softness in his eyes, and says: “Let’s do it. Maybe we can cook food for
people and raise money that way. In Lebanon that’s what you do for others.
That’s how you show love. You cook.” I give him a nod, a long hug, and walk
to my car.
After I leave Jordan’s house, I call my friend John, who I call JD for short. JD
has an endless source of skills, crafted through a turbulent and inspiring life -
with cooking being one them. He also happens to have a Lebanese family. I
find it ironic - in a beautiful and synchronistic way - that two of my best friends
happen to be Lebanese. Definitely not by chance, I’m thinking. JD picks up
the phone, and I ask him if he wants in. “Fuck yes”, he says, without any
August 17th, 2020. 4 days prior.
For the previous two weeks, I had been thinking of how we might affect
change with the humanitarian crisis overseas while also spreading love in the
city where I live, Denver. Although two vastly different worlds, Lebanon
and Denver share one common thread: a rising homeless population
and a system that is unable to support it. After reflecting one evening, it
struck me that all of the pieces were in place to create something special for
both communities by mobilizing our own networks. I did some research, called
some friends, and together, we put in place the event which has caught the
attention of thousands: Operation Feed the People.
August 20th, 2020. 1 day until Operation Feed the People.
Five of us dance to Reggaeton in an industrial kitchen in Denver, preparing a
massive amount of Lebanese food to share with the Denver homeless
population. The recipes are all from JD’s grandmother - “Tata” in Lebanese,
who taught him the secret to spicing and creating Lebanese dishes. We
decide to prepare Tabbouleh (a Lebanese salad), Kafta (a baked, spiced beef
ball), and seven-spice roasted potatoes. After our cooking session, I bring to
the group the idea of which organization we want to support in Lebanon. The
vote: an NGO called Atfalouna that helps starving families, and in particular,
starving children, receive food. The goal: to help feed our Denver
community while simultaneously raising money to feed children in
Lebanon. All of us leave with smiles on our faces and butterflies in our souls.
August 21st, 2020. Operation Feed the People.
9:52 AM. Lawson Park, Denver.
I meet my friend Kevin at the park. Kevin and I have created a community in
Denver called The 5 Pillars of the Satsang, which focuses on helping those in
need in Denver. Within 20 minutes of arriving at the park, Kevin and I feel out
the vibe of the people camping there; curious to who they are, and what they
are like. It doesn’t take long for people to get curious about the two outliers
wandering around asking questions. Before we know it, a crew of 6 or so
homeless men are letting us know that the streets call this place - “Jurassic
Park” - and that stabbings and beatings are common here; so we better be
careful. I hear this with a shred of doubt; but nonetheless, I take note of where
I am. I’m glad I do.
“I was about to light my cigarette when I looked out the window and saw
what you were doing. And rather than lighting my cigarette, I came down
to see what ya’ll were up to and now I’m helping. If that isn’t a sign from a higher power, then I don’t know what is.”
The now 7 piece crew of Kaylynne, Marcos, Jordan, JD, Kat, Kevin, and I
listen to Shelly’s words as her daughter, Destiny, and Destiny’s daughter,
London, help us organize the plates of food to hand out.
“Please, all of you, listen to me. If you don’t hear the words thank you today,
know that you are all SO APPRECIATED. You are SO APPRECIATED, and don’t EVER stop what you’re doing. NEVER STOP. YOU HEAR ME? It’s such a blessing you all are here.”
I’m still reeling from Shelly’s words as I load up the plates of food I’ve
prepared on a red trolly that Shelly took from her apartment. I walk across the
street, tears in my eyes, with Jordan and Marcos to “Jurassic Park”, where
things are heating up – literally and figuratively.
At the far end of the park where we have yet to deliver food, I hear yelling,
and as I squint my eyes through the hot Denver haze, I see a couple of guys
going at it. “Looks like someone wandered into Jurassic Park who isn’t
wanted” I think, and continue to walk forward with Jordan and Marcos next to
We get to the far end of the park, start handing out food, and my energetic
radars are going off. Things feel intense. Things feel like they’re escalating. I
whip out my phone to catch a photo of Jordan handing out a plate of food
when I hear a SMACK! and a man yelling. A man is punching another man
behind Jordan while he’s handing out food. “You guys wants some
Tabbouleh?” I can hear Jordan thoughtfully asking a group of people while
punches are being thrown right behind him. Later, in a less intense
environment, we laugh about the ridiculousness of all of this.
A couple of minutes after the scuffle, Kevin and I are handing out the last
plates of food. A man who we hand a plate to replies, “Wow, I can’t believe
I’m being given this. How am I able to get this level of service?” Kevin
and I look at him with compassion, feeling joy in sharing this gift. Then, as we
walk back towards the food station, the man screams “WHO THE FUCK ARE
YOU TO COME AND GIVE ME FOOD?! GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE. I
DON’T NEED THIS SHIT! CLEAN THIS SHIT UP!” and throws the full plate
of food in the air, exploding the Kafta, Tabbouleh and potatoes on the ground
near a number of tents.
Kevin and I look at each other in shock. “Why did he do that?” I’m thinking as
we walk back to the food station. A couple of minutes later, we reflect and
Kevin says to the group: “That was powerful to see him react that way. It’s
incredibly moving to see people respond with their trauma. He must
have a deep sense of feeling that he doesn’t deserve to be given to.” In
that moment I realize two things: how important it is that we’re here doing this
work, and also how aware we need to be of the environment when we come
back next time.
Afterwards, we collectively decide to wrap up the day at Lawson Park and get
ready for the next part of the plan: to go down to Washington Park, where
we’ll be asking for donations to Atfalouna to help starving children in Lebanon.
In the hour that we were in Five Points, we raise over $300 from our
Instagram and Facebook stories. Not bad, I think. As we hop in the cars and
head down south, I wonder where this is all going. The next day, I get an
August 22 nd, 2020
“I’m getting tons of messages and responses from people saying that
they’re inspired to create their own event to help the homeless and
people overseas”, Kevin says to me. Within a day of posting our stories
online, we’re inundated with messages and requests, asking what the next
event is and how to help. Kevin and I look at each other, our eyes shining,
and realize that from the anger and sadness of the tragedy in Beirut, a group
of people have created a movement to help feed the hungry across our
Special thanks to Natalie Baker, Shelly, Destiny, London, and all of those who
helped make this vision a reality.
If you feel that you would like to donate to help starving children in Lebanon,
please send a Venmo payment to @feed-the-people. Just $10 can help a
child eat for 2 days. The NGO we are supporting is called Atfalouna.
Interested in helping with our next event? Follow us here:
Facebook: 5 Pillars of the Satsang