ALEXANDRIA: With the arrival of Ramadan, phone messages and emails are flying backing and forth expressing the sentiments of the season. But a more concrete sign of the generous nature of Ramadan are advertisements at supermarkets and grocery stores for the famous Ramadan package.
Every year people wait from Ramadan to Ramadan to gather or donate money to create Ramadan packages to help the less fortunate through the month. These packages are then distributed to the needy, supplying them with their basic nutritional needs for the month of Ramadan.
Before creating the bags most people ask families what their needs might be. The basic Ramadan package often contains pasta, rice, ghee, oil, tomato sauce, dates, any form of beans, sugar and tea. The amount of these ingredients varies from package to package and the ingredients themselves may vary. The price of one package can range from LE 20 to LE 100, depending on the contents.
To make it easier for the charitable, many supermarkets prepare these packages each year. In Cairo, supermarkets such as Metro and Hyper One carry them for around LE 35. In Alexandria, Fathalla Supermarket, which usually sells wholesale, has two standard packages one for LE 20 and another for LE 25. The customer can alter the ingredients to suit himself and the supermarket will prepare the bags specially.
Fathalla and Metro also have another form of donation where a person can buy coupons to give to the poor. These food coupons allow people to do their shopping themselves. One contributor says instead of giving a family pasta and rice the family may want to use the money to buy chicken or meat, so the coupon gives them the freedom to do so.
Some donators choose to make these packages and pick them up to distribute on their own, while others prefer to give the money to collectors who will do the distribution for them.
One charity organization compiles lists of recipient families. This year they are collecting money for packages for 10,000 families. The families they focus on are victims of some sort of natural disaster in Egypt; for example a family whose home has been destroyed by a flood. The organization first does extensive research on the family to make sure that they are eligible. They look into the work situation and whether the members of the family are trying to work but simply do not make enough money. They make inquiries around the area about the family. After they are sure these families need the package, they then place them in programs to teach them a skill to allow them to work for a better life.
Each package that the organization makes costs LE 70. Ten percent of the money collected will be put into a kitchen project aimed at making these packages a yearlong project. The kitchen will cook food and sell it at greatly reduced prices. The money will then be used to create the packages, which will be distributed throughout the year.
Apart from giving out packages, people also like to cook food themselves for iftar during Ramadan. For example, one family has a stove and sink set up in the garage under their building and this year will cook meat and potatoes with rice in large amounts and then about half an hour before maghreb, drive around the area and give food to the needy in the streets.
The generosity apparent in Ramadan gives the less fortunate an opportunity to eat meat almost every day for the whole month, a rarity for the poor. Although giving food to the poor was an all year round practice exercised by the Muslims during the time of Prophet Mohammed, cooking food and serving it in the neighborhood was a tradition created by the Mamluk sultans in 13th century Egypt.