The Bay Citizen
Bringing the Haves and Have-Nots Together for Curry and Compassion
By CAROL POGASH
Published: October 29, 2011
As the evening light dimmed, Shrawan Nepali greeted each person who stood in a long line waiting for his food: a woman with her butterscotch-colored cocker spaniel, a poet poring over a mystery book, art students, commuters, a homeless woman with crimson sneakers and men wearing black hoods to guard against the cold and conversation.
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At United Nations Plaza, a resting place for homeless men, Mr. Nepali thanked each person for coming. The more than 200 “guests,” as Mr. Nepali called them, were there to dine on his steaming brown rice, pungent Nepalese vegetable curry, nine-bean soup, tomato chutney and poori.
San Francisco has a checkerboard of free food programs serving millions of institutional meals annually. But every Tuesday, Curry Without Worry, a boutique soup kitchen, appears under a gold canopy and offers something different: spicy restaurant-quality dishes — what Mr. Nepali calls “soul-pleasing food” — to both the hungry and the well-fed.
For five years, Mr. Nepali has invited people to his festive dinners, hoping to foster “a merging of communities” between the haves and have-nots. Although Curry Without Worry is not well known to the city’s foodies, it is a favorite of many of the city’s less fortunate.
And the need is growing. The San Francisco Food Bank estimates one in five adults struggles to put food on the table. In the last fiscal year, the San Francisco Food Bank and the Marin Food Bank distributed food to 225,000 people, up from 132,000 three years earlier.
“People are so unaware of the hunger in San Francisco,” said Jim Illig, government relations director at Project Open Hand, which provides meals to the elderly and the ill. “We’re an incredibly rich city, and yet people in front of us are going hungry every night.”
Mr. Nepali, 51, was raised in an orphanage in Katmandu. He came to the United States for college, becoming an accountant, a controller and a restaurateur. He put aside part of his profits at Taste of the Himalayas, a Nepalese restaurant in San Francisco, to get Curry Without Worry off the ground. “For a man from Nepal to see hungry people in this beautiful world-class city is difficult to see,” Mr. Nepali said.
He sold the restaurant three years ago and now lives on proceeds from cooking and music lessons, and Nepal tours.
“I realized having a traditional business was not how I wanted to live my life,” he said. “My karma was to serve unfortunate people.” Mr. Nepali built an orphanage in Katmandu and last year started a Curry Without Worry there.
“You feel blessed to be in his presence,” said Fiona Ma, speaker pro tem of the California Assembly and a former San Francisco supervisor. Mr. Nepali’s desire to help people, she said, “is very contagious.” Five years ago, Ms. Ma became Curry Without Worry’s treasurer.
Curry Without Worry serves about 250 people in San Francisco weekly. It buys much of its food from farmers’ markets and food banks; everything is fresh and vegan. Its annual $20,000 budget comes from donations.
Jesse Seaver, an entrepreneur and president of Curry Without Worry, said the nonprofit organization mostly feeds the hungry. “We encourage successful people who wouldn’t eat at a soup kitchen to come,” he said. “It makes people realize that they’re not that different from one another.”
In United Nations Plaza, Kristine Eudey, an artist with short, stylish hair, sat on a curb eating curry. “This is such a rich food city, but only a small segment of San Francisco has access to it,” she said. “This is beautiful. They’re giving food to people, which is what we need.”
An hour after people began scooping curry and rice, the sky turned a pigeon gray and City Hall’s gold dome was bathed in light. The metal curry pot was scraped clean. All that remained were the fragrance of ginger, onion, cumin and coriander, and the people at the end of the line who filled their plates with aromatic rice soaked in what was left of the nine-bean soup.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 6, 2011
An article last Sunday about Curry Without Worry, a boutique soup kitchen in San Francisco, referred incorrectly to the increase in the number of people who receive food from the San Francisco Food Bank and the Marin Food Bank. The number had grown to 225,000 people, which is up from 132,000 three years earlier, not in the previous year.
A version of this article appeared in print on October 30, 2011, on page A25A of the National edition with the headline: Bringing the Haves and Have-Nots Together for Curry and Compassion.
Nepal Republica Media
A little deeper into the evening, they engage in what looks like some sort of communal dance.
While they perform steps inspired by B-boying and Michael Jackson, their eyes seem to be looking out for something, for every few minutes they turn towards the street.
They are all performing and clamoring when a Jeep screeches into the area and all of a sudden the performance is put to a halt. “The jeep is here!” someone yells, and in a jiffy they are all running behind the vehicle, some even managing to hop on to it.
Saurav, one of the smallest in the group, runs as fast as his legs can carry him and before the jeep can unload, he is alongside his friends, all standing in a straight line.
He has been here many times, he says. From Karnali district, Saurav says he lives at Basantpur itself. He has many friends who, like him, wait for the jeep that comes on Tuesdays, and “they have a party.”
Every Tuesday, Curry Without Worry (CWOW) feeds anyone who asks for a healthy sumptuous vegetarian meal consisting of rice, poori, mixed vegetables, mixed bean curry and tomato pickle.
CWOW, the brainchild of Shrawan Nepali, is a nonprofit organization that cooks and serves a five-variety meal once a week at the same venue for free.
On a usual CWOW day, there are 300 people waiting to be fed. There are around a hundred kids, like Saurav, and adults who live in the neighborhood and others who come from around the city.
While most of them sit down in the historic Durbar Square to enjoy the hot tasty meal, there are also those who come with plastic bags to take food home.
“Our guests are mostly street children but we have no criteria as to who can or cannot come,” informs Hem Ratna Shakya, President of CWOW for Nepal.
But before reaching Basantpur, the group feeds the 45 children currently living at the Paropkar Orphanage at Bhimsentan.
The practice is so not only because the CWOW uses the orphanage to prepare the meals but also because Shravan Nepali, the founder of the group, shares a special bond with Paropkar.
Shravan himself was raised at the Paropkar Orphanage. He later had the opportunity to go to the United States for higher education.
Before starting CWOW in December 2006 in San Francisco he was a restaurateur there. In the early days, he managed Curry without Worry from the profits of his eatery called Taste of the Himalayas, which he sold later.
After running CWOW in America for six years, he brought the idea to Nepal. “It’s been two years, and the number of people coming to the dinner is ever increasing,” informs Shakya.
The food is prepared by volunteers and members of the group. Every Tuesday morning, they gather at the Paropkar hostel and begin by chopping vegetables.
Pravash Pradhan, 25, busy slicing tomatoes, was volunteering for the first time. He is taking a break from college and said volunteering was the best way to spend time.
“There’s a sense of happiness you get out of volunteering,” he said. He has previously volunteered at other organizations in his hometown, Hetuada. A hotel management student, he thought the exercise with vegetable chopping was, for him, like practical classes.
The required vegetables are 40 kilos, an equal amount of rice and flour alongside other required items, including ghee and spices. These are bought at local shops around Paropkar. Its weekly budget of Rs 20,000 comes from donations by anyone interested.
Chiranjibi Shrestha, manager of Cultural Handicrafts Dolls at Ason who also manages as the accounts chief of CWOW, said the group was having a tough time with finances. “But although we have a debt of above 100,000 Rupees right now, we haven’t skipped a single Tuesday,” she smiles.
In the latest edition of the meal distribution, it is Bina Sthapit who is helping with the serving. Bina is not a member of the group but is there because her son, Anish, 24, a chartered accountant, has sponsored the event that day.
“I thought for a long time as to what I should gift her, and then the idea struck me,” he says. Asked on how she feels about her son’s gift, Bina answers with glee, “This has been the best birthday gift ever. I have more than 300 people wishing me.”
CWOW works solely on donations. Every week, the event is sponsored by someone, and the group prepares the meal on the budget. As for volunteers, everyone is welcome to help out, in the kitchen or at the serving venue.
After about an hour, it is dark and the only light CWOW has are the headlights of their vehicle. Everyone by this time has his plate filled while Saurav and his friends, amidst an antakshari singing, get up for another helping.
All that remains in the containers are emptied out onto their plates before the Jeep vanishes into the dark, leaving the singing kids already waiting for the next Tuesday.
Those interested in donating or volunteering can call Hem Ratna Shakya at 9841344067 or simply walk in to the Paropkar Orphanage any Tuesday.
Published on 2012-03-22 10:45:39