Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Kansas City connections rallied around Kaitlin Abdelrahman to develop her startup offering — On Call Halal — within a month, she said, providing quick aid to Muslim healthcare workers slammed with COVID-19 cases while also adhering to the strict dietary rules of Ramadan.
“April 1 was the first time that I was like, ‘I think we can do this. I think we can make this happen,’ and Ramadan was 24 days away at that point. I just started reaching out to basically everybody and that’s what I mean — Kansas City has really come together to make this happen because all those people have offered their services for free to help us get this ball rolling,” said Abdelrahman, founder of On Call Halal, a local halal meal service and delivery, as well as leadership team member for InnovateHER KC.
Click here to learn more about Halal On Call and donate meals.
Healthcare workers during the month of Ramadan — which started at the end of April and ends on May 23 — must rise before the sun at around 4 a.m. to be able to eat and then have to endure long shifts at hospitals and clinics while fasting from food and drink, she said. Halal food is specially prepared following guidelines prescribed by Muslim law.
“It’s much more than food and water as well — it’s even maintaining good demeanor, and they’re doing it all while wearing PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] and if you’ve ever worn PPE for even an hour while going to the grocery store you might notice that you’re thirstier than usual,” Abdelrahman added. “There’s just so many times when medical workers are exerting extra energy, especially during a pandemic, and they’re not able to replenish.”
“Then maybe right when the time comes that they’re able to, there’s not a restaurant open, and there’s not a place close enough,” she said. “Or there’s not a place that’s serving the right type of food that they can consume safely and still adhere to their religious guidance. So, [Halal on Call] basically takes all of that extra thinking out the day for them so that they can just go to this room at their hospital, get their meal, eat it, and they can relax.”
Quickly backed by local organizations like the Palestinian American Medical Assosciation and aided by individual entrepreneurs, the service developed a model based on donations wherein meals are prepared by local restaurants and then be delivered to local hospitals for Muslim workers, she said.
“The Palestinian American Medical Assosciation was the first sponsor and without their initial donation, I’m not sure that it would have ever been able to start by the first couple days of Ramadan, but by then we were gaining momentum and securing more individual donations from donors, it was really great,” said Abdelrahman.
On Call Halal hopes to reach a goal of 3,300 meals for the partnered hospitals — three University of Kansas Research Hospital and Children’s Mercy locations — and the workers that are estimated to eat 110 meals every day during Ramadan, said Abdelrahman, noting the current number sits at 1,800 meals.
The service also boosts the local restaurant industry that has largely stagnated because of shutdowns and quarantining, she added, noting food and beverage partners are given two days notice for orders to prepare the meals.
“If we reach our goal, that’s $42,000 roughly that we’re putting into the local Kansas City economy in a month, and once we get close enough, we’ll expand to the Saint Luke’s and Truman [hospitals] at that point,” she added. “We definitely want to serve as many people as we can, but we don’t want to not be able to fulfill our commitment to the [initial] three hospitals.”
Individual donors have the option to support a specific restaurant as well, Abdelrahman said, noting the restaurants are vetted according to the specifications required in food preparation for halal meals.
With the time crunch aspect to the venture, moving quickly to fulfill orders and garner support is paramount to making an impact through the difficult time, she said.
“We’re more than a week into it and it’s four weeks total, so we definitely want to get that goal as soon as possible so that we can start to serve those hospitals as soon as possible because soon the month of Ramadan will be over — we’re not really going to have the same goals as an organization once it’s done,” Abdelrahman said.
The feedback from hospital workers has been overwhelmingly positive, she said, noting the company fully intends to continue servicing in the same fashion for Ramadan in future years.
“All of the hospitals said their staff was so excited about it and that they want to continue it in years to come, so even when there’s not a pandemic — which hopefully there isn’t,” she said. “I definitely think that there’s going to be a need for it in years to come but also in more places than just Kansas City.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.