Everyone is observing social-distancing rules in Egypt to halt the spread of the COVID-19 this Ramadan. Study in schools and universities has been suspended, the number of workers in government departments has been reduced, large numbers of workers in the private sector and companies have been trained to work from home, some have decided to stay at home until the situation becomes clearer, and all large gatherings have been cancelled.
But informal workers and those working on a daily basis may be suffering more than most as a result of the lockdown, sometimes being short of money and not knowing where the next meal is coming from. This is where the mobile application TeKeya founded by 32-year-old Cairo resident Menna Shahin can help.
“It all started when I was at a sushi restaurant in Cairo, and I was shocked by the large amounts of food left over that were being thrown into the trash. I asked one of the workers if I could buy the food at a reduced price, but I didn’t have any luck. It was then that I discussed the idea of an application to fight food waste and to use it to help feed others with my husband. He liked the idea, and we joined forces and he became a co-founder of TeKeya,” Shahin said.
Shahin launched TeKeya in April last year to fight food waste and to decrease the amount of CO2 pollution created by excess food being produced and thrown away. Since its launch, the application has saved thousands of surplus meals, either donating them to charity organisations feeding the needy or selling them at reduced prices to customers while reducing Egypt’s CO2 footprint.
“The products offered on the application are often nearly expired food items, including unserved ready meals or baked goods in restaurants, items that have been kept in the refrigerator for a while, the remains from open buffets and more,” Shahin said. All of this material is perfectly edible, but it cannot be kept for longer in the wait for customers.
Meals for all in Ramadan
“We are working with three types of food providers – hotels, restaurants and grocery stores. Hotels mostly have larger amounts of food that we help to channel to charity organisations in the form of donations. For the other segments, we help providers to sell their items at reduced prices using the TeKeya application. We don’t include food leftovers in the project. We use high-quality food that might otherwise go to waste,” she added.
This Ramadan, with the mix of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sometimes large amounts of food waste that can take place during the holy month, TeKeya decided to launch a triple-target campaign called the TeKeya Challenge that aims to increase awareness about reducing food waste from homes and restaurants, providing ready hot meals for medical staff and troubled people due to the coronavirus, and offering help to the elderly who may not be able to shop easily or have the know-how to use online shopping.
“We have concluded agreements with providers including supermarkets, restaurants and supply companies. A bunch of them have already made a deal with TeKeya to offer meals and Ramadan bags. The meals are to go to staff in hospitals who don’t have the time to get their own iftar meals in Ramadan and don’t want to order delivery meals because of social-distancing and to poorer people and casual workers. Our volunteers provide aid in delivering and handing over the meals, as well as following up on the elderly who request help in ordering or getting their shopping from the supermarket,” Shahin said.
The TeKeya team has had few difficulties convincing food retailers and restaurants to join forces on the project. “It brings you back to the world’s food waste problem. Worldwide, a third of the food that is being produced goes to waste, which puts an enormous burden on the environment. In Egypt alone, 73 kg of food per person per year gets wasted, and this increases some 60 per cent during the Holy Month of Ramadan,” Shahin explained.
“There are socio-economic, cultural and behavioural reasons behind the problem of food waste. Some retailers would rather not acknowledge the problem, as it might give their customers a bad impression. But we explain to them that having perfectly fresh food left at the end of the day is not bad at all and that it can still be sold to consumers at reduced prices or donated to charities using our application,” she added.
Meals for all in Ramadan
“When we show them examples of the retailers that have joined forces with us, they want to try as well. Many restaurants like the idea that they can be part of decreasing food waste, decreasing pollution and ensuring help for charity organisations.”
The TeKeya application has all the functionalities needed to help connect providers with consumers, including charities. Donations are channelled to charities that then distribute them within the locations they oversee. Reduced-priced food can also be ordered through the application.
“I saw TeKeya’s collaboration with other restaurants and thought it was a great initiative. We had already been taking individual orders from hospitals within our delivery zones. From day one, we wanted to show that we are here for healthcare workers as a small gesture of appreciation that can go a long way during these difficult times. They are our front line of defence, and they are putting their and their families’ lives at risk every day to save others. It’s the least we can do to help them with food and other donations,” Tarek Haddad, 35, the manager of the Kansas restaurant in Cairo, said.
Haddad’s restaurant is part of the TeKeya Challenge, and he sees it as different from other charity work he has done before. “The point of Tekeya’s initiative is to motivate others to do the same and be considerate towards the health of public-sector workers. They need us as much as we need them,” he commented.
The Kansas restaurant supported medical staff with 100 meals to help them break their fast on the first day of Ramadan. It has asked 35 members of its team to help prepare, pack and deliver meals in Ramadan. “Thanks go to the TeKeya app for helping us to participate in such a good campaign. And a special thanks to all hospital workers, from the security staff, cleaners and administrators, to the nurses to doctors. They are our true heroes in the fight against the virus,” Haddad said.
Another participant in this year’s challenge is Locanda Cuisine, whose account manager, Menna Saad, 25, sees it as something that must be followed to help the community at this difficult time. Locanda and its staff are happy to participate in charity work during Ramadan through the TeKeya app, she said.
“We started collaborating with TeKeya because we believed that it’s a great initiative at this time to support the heroes who are dealing daily with the pandemic to help save our lives. Giving food and beverages to doctors, nurses and whoever else is in need at this time is vital, as we want to save them the time and energy necessary for them to work. We want to make sure that they consume safe and healthy food, and we want to show our appreciation by giving them extra-delicious food that is full of nutrients so they can continue their contribution to save us in these challenging times and especially during Ramadan,” Saad said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly