Fairfax man raises over $1M to help feed starving families in Gaza

On Wednesday, the head of the World Health Organization said that thousands of people in Gaza are facing "catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions."

For months, a man in Fairfax County has been raising money to provide food for starving families in his homeland.

For Hani Almadhoun, it started as a simple mission – sending money from Northern Virginia through Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal to help his family and neighbors in north Gaza.

"Look, it's a very desperate situation," Hani said. "We know kids who died out of starvation in north Gaza, our neighbors."

As the giving grew, Hani turned to GoFundMe – with an initial goal of $20,000 – for transparency. 

His day job is as the director of philanthropy at the UNRWA USA in Washington, D.C., so he knows a thing or two about fundraising.

"It's crazy how generous Americans are," Hani said.

So generous, in fact, donations have surpassed a million dollars since February. 

As of Wednesday, it stands at $1,153,321 given from more than 10,000 donors.

The money has gone to create the Gaza Soup Kitchen - one in the north, one now in the south.

It started with a few pots, Hani's brother, Chef Mahmoud, and fresh food foraged in a warzone. 

They risked their lives to dig up potatoes, Hani said, and found grass and leafy greens, some oil, and tomato paste.

They fed about a hundred people the first few days. Now, they average several thousand.


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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained the war would not end in Gaza until the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities was complete.

Hani's mother and sisters, nieces and nephews, finding food, chopping vegetables, baking bread. The images were captured and shared around the globe. Sometimes, it is the first hot meal people have had in weeks.

"It wasn't easy because there's no banks, there's no ATMs, little communication," Hani said. "But finally, because we have the will to survive, we did something for our neighbors, and we managed to tell a story people wanted to hear."

The question some may have is how can brothers half a world apart feed their neighbors when humanitarian aid has been so difficult to get?

Hani said their grassroots efforts have been able to bypass a lot of the red tape.

"Because we're scrappy and nimble enough, we can create things for folks. For example, we cook for 2,000 to 3,000 people, the NGO would want to cook food for 50,000 people, so scale is not there, and we are able to find the resources."

According to the WHO, more than 8,000 children under age 5 have been diagnosed and treated for acute malnutrition in Gaza.

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In November, Hani lost his brother, sister-in-law, and their children. More than a hundred members of his extended family have been killed as the war rages on.

The work in the Gaza Soup Kitchen, he said, gives them hope, and takes them away from the sorrow and sadness that surrounds them.

"If this little kitchen we're doing gives people some hope, we love that. We want to continue to do this. It's beautiful what we're doing, but it's tragic that we have to do it," Hani said.

He went from feeling helpless to becoming a helper.

"Everyday I wake up to a disaster or crisis or trauma, some days I don't really want to wake up. Now these pictures give people a little dose of hope," Hani said. "Like 'hey, I can't get this to stop, I can't get the government to do XYZ, but I can make sure these kids get food and smile.'"