Shirwa Jibril was thinking of his many relatives in Somalia when he left work early Friday and picked up three friends for lunch.
At Hamdi Restaurant, they ordered Somali tea and sambusa, happy to pay for a meal and participate in Dine Out for Somalia, a local effort to raise money for famine relief in the East African nation.
“Today is a special day,” Jibril said. “We’re here to contribute to this special cause.”
Minnesotans came out in droves to eat at the more than 45 restaurants that pledged to give a share of their Friday profits to organizations fighting the famine, including the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa and the American Somali Relief Agency. The United Nations has said as many as 20 million people are at risk from the drought and famine in Somalia and two nearby countries.
Many of those who came out to eat were Somali, but not everybody. Mohamed Mohamed, a marketing consultant who helped restaurants promote the event, said the Dine Out for Somalia campaign reached a broader audience. The goal was to raise more than $150,000.
“It seems like a good way to get the general public aware of the famine,” he said.
On the University of Minnesota’s East Bank, student Sarah Bediako waited in a line that stretched out the door at Afro Deli over the noon hour. The restaurant was packed with students and professionals munching on sambusa, falafel sandwiches and fries. Bediako said she learned about the event on social media and decided to grab a lamb gyro for lunch as a small way to show support.
“Even if you’re not from Somalia, you can make a difference,” she said.
U students Sowda Ahmed and Jasmine Gill also ate at Afro Deli for lunch. Gill said she was a frequent customer at the restaurant’s previous location in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood but hadn’t yet made a stop at the new location. Friday’s event drove her to make the visit.
“I think this is a really great way to get people involved,” Gill said.
Ahmed, who still has family living in Somalia, said the drought there has had a widespread impact, even on those who are financially well-off.
“Not having water affects everyone,” she said.
In Cedar-Riverside, Sakariya Ali made a stop at West Bank Diner, where he and his friends occasionally nosh on halal chicken strips, rice and goat meat dishes. But after they learned about Dine Out for Somalia on social media, eating at their favorite restaurant was a must. Ali said that while the famine isn’t commonly discussed in the U.S. media, it is a constant topic of conversation in the Somali community.
Over at Karmel Square Mall in south Minneapolis, more than 10 restaurants participated. Their landlord, Basim Sabri, pledged to match all their donations.
“It’s our obligation to support our people dying of hunger,” said Ali Khalif, the Hamdi Restaurant manager who wore a Dine Out for Somalia T-shirt emblazoned with the map of Somalia. “And we need to act quickly.
Mohamed Mohamed and Abdifatah Adan brought their toddlers to Willo restaurant for the first time to support the event.
“What’s happening in Somalia makes me emotional,” Mohamed said. “We need to help.”
Couple Ayan Farah and Abdihamid Farah were quickly preparing food at Hooyo’s Kitchen before the lunch rush. The Farahs said their buttered corn with spinach stew is a favorite among customers and they didn’t want to run out on the big day.
“We are blessed here in America,” said Abdihamid Farah. “We have to share the blessings with people who are dying of hunger.”
Haley Hansen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.