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DC restaurant that feeds homeless people was about to close — until donations poured in

Owner Kazi Mannan said Sakina Halal Grill was financially "underwater" due to difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Owner Kazi Mannan said that this is the first time they have asked for donations.
Owner Kazi Mannan said that this is the first time they have asked for donations.Kazi Mannan

A restaurant in Washington, D.C. that made its name by offering free meals to homeless people almost went out of business during the pandemic, but an amazing community response is keeping its doors open.

Kazi Mannan, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan and opened Sakina Halal Grill in 2013, told TODAY Food that the restaurant had been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic since it is in a commercial area surrounded by offices and hotels, most of which have been empty since March.

Mannan inside his restaurant in a photo from 2017. The Washington Post / Getty Images

Mannan said that this is the first time they have asked for donations. Even though they serve hundreds of free meals to those in need, he said that they have always been able to stay afloat, but the loss of business during the pandemic meant the restaurant was "underwater." Finally, on Nov. 12, he had his team create a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe.

"We tried to survive on our own, but at the point we were at it was like, 'What can we do? Everything is over.'" Mannan explained. "Then we decided to ask the public if they can rescue the restaurant so we can continue our mission, so we can continue to pay the staff of the restaurant, so we can continue to provide jobs."

The restaurant team created the GoFundMe with a goal of $250,000. In just over week, they surpassed that goal, collecting nearly $300,000 in donations.

"I have had tears in my eyes (for weeks) out of fear of losing everything, and now I have tears of joy that I received such a tremendous amount of support from all over the world," Mannan said. "I appreciate every person who participated ... Whether with their best wishes or their donations, they made this dream alive again."

Mannan said that the coronavirus pandemic had severely impacted his business. Kazi Mannan

Mannan said that he has always operated the restaurant with the goal of being a "light and hope for others in the community" while doing "whatever we can" to help the less fortunate. Now that they have enough money to pay back any outstanding bills and stay afloat for a significant period of time, he said he's hoping to establish an even larger community foundation that can help people nationwide.

"Giving back to the community was the joy of my life," he said. "I started with a smaller mission, and I think through this love and support ... it gives me the courage to lead in a stronger way, to start a foundation, to do a bigger thing."