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This Toronto restaurant is serving free meals to those in need of food through pay-it-forward initiative

A restaurant in Toronto’s east end is serving up free panzerottis to those who cannot afford to eat or buy groceries through its pay-it-forward initiative.

As of Nov. 6, Samaira’s Kitchen, located at 1056 Queen Street East in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, launched a charitable initiative where customers can pre-purchase free meals for others who cannot afford them.

Guests can either order it online or in-store, and after the restaurant posts up a ticket on its window so, those in need of a meal can easily snag one before making it to the counter to order what toppings they’d like in their panzerotti.

While there are several reasons that prompted the restaurant owner, Rajesh Chamoli, to start it, he said it primarily boils down to inflation jacking up food prices.

“With the food crisis and with the food banks, it’s very terrible to see and we though, ‘How can we give a little bit back to our community who has supported us all these years?’” Chamoli told CTV News Toronto Friday.

Earlier this week, this year’s Who’s Hungry report revealed there have been more than 2.5 million food bank visits in Toronto in 2023 – a 51 per cent jump from last year and the highest annual surge ever reported.

The city’s food banks have seen a 154 per cent increase this year with 12,000 Torontonians signing onto the registry every month (most of whom are employed), the Daily Bread Food Bank’s CEO, Neil Hetherington, told CP24 on Tuesday.

“This was the worst report that the Daily Bread and North York Harvest have ever issued. One in 10 Torontonians are making use of a food bank and that is horrific and that is obscene and we need to do something about it,” Hetherington said.

Around 350 meals have been given away since Chamoli’s pay-it-forward campaign in the last couple of weeks.

“We’re seeing a lot of our next door neighbours, senior housing … people from the South Riverdale community, people who are there (from) the safe injection site, and also, sometimes, other people who would not look like they needed it, but I guess, as I said, everybody’s having a tough time as this time,” Chamoli said.

The community response so far has been positive, Chamoli said, with even people as far as Oakville calling in to place an order to feed someone.

While he’s unsure of how long he will run this initiative, Chamoli said he is going to do it for as long as he can.

“It’s giving me a good moment when you see people who are in need, and you see a smile on their face, and they have no place where they can go when they are hungry.”

With files from CP24’s Codi Wilson 

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