Free Meals in Time of Recession



Recently, a school, La Petite Academy, surprised residents of Abuja, when it served 1,500 free meals to residents in the capital city, writes Chineme Okafor
A music track of one of Nigeria’s popular singers – Phyno, bellowed from a speaker, while a motley crowd built up. By the time THISDAY came by, a long queue had already formed, even though the occasion was quite unclear at first to the reporter,, and so did not stimulate this reporter’s interest as much, the unusual appeal from the microphone to the crowd was then enough to excite the interest of this reporter.
Ordinarily, one would have concluded that it was one of the many occasions or publicity stunts of the various telecoms or health service providers that regularly compete for market share amongst Abuja’s growing population. At such instances, new telecoms freebies are either advertised or free health service from donor agencies are given to the city’s public, either of them often attracted the kind of crowd that was evident on this occasion.
Additionally, an immediate or easy judgement of what the occasion was all about could be made from the location of the now enlarged ‘jamboree’ because it was just within the popular Banex Junction where taxis picked and dropped commuters.
Even the clear shouts of ‘Aunty, come and collect your own plate, Uncle, come and collect, sister, come and collect o! It is free, no payment, just come and eat!’ was not good enough to confirm the occasion until this reporter got closer to the white canopy which could pass off as a food galley.
Just within the white canopy, the reporter met the long queue of people. They were served bowls of jollof rice and drinks by four young ladies, all dressed in white polos and matching faze caps. One of the ladies marked a finger of beneficiaries with an ink pen to serve as an indication that they had been fed, another gave the bowl, while the two others gave drinks and filled up the table with supplies.
The free lunch of jollof rice was served with fried chicken, people got theirs as long as they queued and comported themselves, and there was no discrimination as to who got – taxi drivers who were on duty took out time to queue for the food, street hawkers laid their wares aside to get a bowl, even technicians who had stopped to pick a taxi from the junction found the canopy very useful.
As everyone got away with bowls in their hands, this reporter asked Lazarus Agaigbe, a technician with LG Electronics who got one, what the whole show was about.
“They are giving free rice and drinks, I have collected my own, go and collect your own now before it finishes,” Agaigbe responded.
Prodded further to understand what he meant, he said: “I have been working since morning and haven’t had lunch, now I was passing and saw them giving free food, I had to join the queue and got one bowl with a bottle of water, now this will help me to concentrate on my work after I finish eating. I won’t have to buy lunch today anymore.”
With better information, the reporter sought after the promoters of the free lunch, and met with Akunna Nwamuo who told the reporter that her school, La Petit Academy Abuja was hosting the lunch break.
“We have 1,500 bowls of jollof rice and chicken to give out and we won’t leave here until the last bowl is out,” Nwamuo said as she took time to explain to the reporter what the whole show was all about.
She said the school took up the initiative as part of the monthly corporate social responsibility acts it engages in, adding that the decision to cook and feed 1,500 residents of Abuja was adopted on the back of the country’s current economic situation.
Tagged ‘operation free lunch Abuja,’ Nwamuo explained that regardless of Abuja’s grandiose status, the city still had a lot of people that are unable to feed from their earnings. According to her, the gesture though a one-off was initiated to stimulate routine acts of kindness which she noted could become part of the city.
“La Petite Academy is hosting free lunch in Wuse 2 for Abuja residents. We are looking to accommodate 1,500 Abuja residents. Whomever is in need of a good meal is welcomed to participate and benefit from this exercise,” said Nwamuo.
She stated: “Savoury jollof rice, tasty chicken, and a refreshing drink are served. We are private citizens trying to do our own part in helping ‘thy neighbour and being our brother’s keeper’.
“This has to do with the economic situation in Nigeria right now. With what is happening in the country, obviously there’s need for such outreach. There are people with paid jobs that cannot afford a decent meal today in our country, we feel we can help lighten up people’s burden even if it is just for a day or few moments. We also believe that this can become a part of Abuja’s lifestyle – helping each other overcome difficult situations.”
Nwamuo noted that the school got its staff and management to volunteer on the initiative. She added: “Government cannot do it alone. We have to try our best to extend a helping hand to those that may need it. In addition, we are trying to instill a sense of compassion and giving amongst our pupils that is why we decided to cook for people today.”
According to her, some forms of sacrifices from every member of the school went into putting the food on the palms of the 1,500 people they cooked. She stated that while it may not happen every other day, the decision to put a smile on the faces of people even for a day was her benefit from the act.
“Just a smile on a face, that is all I wanted, and that was all the pupils and staff wanted, nothing more than a smile,” she added.
Before leaving the spot, THISDAY met yet another appreciative beneficiary, Tajudeen Alabi, a mason who perhaps exuded Nwamuo’s expectations.
He said to the reporter: “I thank these people because this meal may be my last hope for today. I have not worked today and I don’t have any money yet but they have solved my food problem for today.”