Since 2009, the NGO Family Kitchen has been taking leftovers from meals at luxury hotels in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and bringing them to the city’s poorest residents. Their aim is to put a stop to food waste, but their work also highlights growing discontent over the divide between the rich and the poor that has led to unrest in the country.

Earlier this month, a week of protests over a bill that would have increased income taxes led to the resignation of the prime minister. The new prime minister, Omar Razzaz, withdrew the bill at the request of King Abduallah II.

The anger sparked by this bill highlights the poverty and social exclusion felt by a large part of the Kingdom’s population.

The NGO Family Kitchen is all too familiar with the gap between rich and poor in the country. Since 2009, they have been fighting food waste by gathering food from the rich – in this case, luxury hotels – and sharing it with the poor.

"The luxury hotels always make more food than necessary”

Bandar al-Sharif is the president and founder of Family Kitchen. While the NGO remains apolitical, he says his work allows him to see the contrast between the amount of food distributed at luxury hotels and the living conditions of society’s most marginalized.

We got the idea for Family Kitchen in 2009, but it didn’t become an NGO until 2013. We depend on donations.

The food is sorted before being handed out. (Photo posted on the NGO’s Facebook page)
 

We have ongoing partnerships with about a dozen 5-star hotels in Amman. These hotels have to adhere to global industry standards, which means they always prepare more food than necessary. Sometimes, almost all the food ends up in the garbage!

The team picks up food at the different hotels. (Photo posted on the NGO’s Facebook page)
 

We went to see these different hotels and asked if we could have their leftovers to distribute them to the needy. Thanks to donations, we were able to buy refrigerators and refrigerated trucks so we can keep the food in hygienic conditions. This is important because, often, we distribute the food a day after pick-up.

We have about 100 volunteers. Each year, we distribute close to 100,000 meals to needy families in Amman and the surrounding communities. We often team up with local groups who know which people are really in need.

"Most of our operations take place during Ramadan"

Jordan is experiencing an unprecedented crisis. Currently, about 20% of the population is living under the poverty line. The unemployment rate is at 18.5%. Moreover, a third of Jordanians suffer from periods of extreme poverty each year, usually during the winter when they have to spend much more money to heat their homes. However, for the time being, Family Kitchen doesn’t operate in the winter.

For now, we don’t have the means to collect and distribute food every day. And because the food has already been cooked, we aren’t able to stock it.

Most of our operations take place during Ramadan, because that’s a month when we are supposed to really put ourselves in the shoes of the less fortunate, understand their suffering and help them. We are also very active in the summer, which is the season for weddings and gatherings, many of which are organised in our partner luxury hotels.

We want to do more than help people. We also want to raise awareness about food waste. That’s why we prefer to take food from luxury hotels – even though many volunteers have offered to cook for us.

It’s true that people who work in hotel kitchens have to follow industry standards. But we hope that they will become more aware of this issue of food waste and spread the message.

In the past few years, Jordan has suffered from the conflicts in neighbouring countries in the Middle East. Today, there are more than 650,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees living in Jordan. Moreover, Jordan has suffered a drop in exports since the closure of land routes with Iraq.