Look Who’s Bringing the Dinner

The COVID-19 quarantine has made a lot of things more difficult. It’s hard to stay home, it’s hard to avoid friends and family, and it’s hard to find something for the kids to do other than watch YouTube. And sometimes it’s hard just to get up and keep going.

“Being at home, there was something about it that felt imbalanced,” says Cyrus Horst ’22. “It just felt like I wasn’t doing anything all day and that I was just letting myself waste a lot of time. To be able to change that and actually start helping people—that’s something that has definitely motivated me.”

What Cyrus and his sister, Sophie Horst ’19, decided to do is found Dinners Without Borders, a program that delivered ready-made meals to members of the local refugee community over the past few months.

“Our family has been very involved with Syrian refugees for over six years,” Cyrus says. “My mom, with a couple of her friends, started an organization called Project Turquoise. She created the Youth Committee, and I’ve been a part of it all these years.” The group has traveled to Jordan and Lebanon to help refugee populations, but when COVID-19 hit, all planned trips were off. “We realized that we’re not really doing much right now,” Cyrus says, “and there are tons of refugees who have moved to the United States, and, in a time like this, they don’t really have much support in our country.” So Dinners Without Borders came to life. “We wanted to start by providing refugees with nutritious meals, just to make this difficult period easier for them and to make sure they know that they have people in this country that are willing to take steps to make sure they feel welcome.” The project has also delivered meals to the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, veterans’ homes, and the Fuel Our Heroes program at Georgetown Hospital.

To finance Dinners Without Borders, Cyrus and Sophie reached out to family and friends, eventually securing enough funding to approach Moby Dick House of Kabob in Bethesda.

“We already had a relationship with the owners and the managers, and we wanted to support local businesses in the process,” Cyrus says. “We knew that they were probably struggling because people weren’t eating out as much.” They weren’t wrong. Moby Dick gave them an amazing price, and now their restaurant business can stay afloat while refugees, veterans, and others in need receive excellent meals. “They’ve really been so helpful throughout the whole process,” Cyrus says of Moby Dick’s help with the project. “They packaged everything for us; they made sure that nothing was leaking; that everything looked appetizing and was easy to carry and easy to distribute. They also gave us a discount on the bulk food we were getting.”

Yet as Cyrus and Sophie worked on Dinners Without Borders, they started to realize that their efforts needed finetuning. They decided to branch out. “After many discussions, we decided to move Dinners Without Borders to Project Turquoise and focus on gift cards from local grocery stores,” Cyrus says. “While it’s amazing to get a beautifully packaged and nutritious meal, grocery store gift cards are a little bit more cost-effective—and they give the recipients more agency to buy what their family really needs.”

While Cyrus and Sophie were helping refugees, they also saw the refugees helping one another.

“There was one boy in particular named Wasim,” Cyrus says. “He was always the first one out, taking maybe four bags at the same time so other families could have enough food for that night. There was never any aspect of, ‘Okay, I’m getting my food, and I’m not going to help others.’” Instead, Wasim was more likely to take food out of his own family’s bag to give to others, especially if they had spilled something or anything had happened to their food. “That was just so inspiring because his family was definitely just as much in need as a bunch of the other families,” Cyrus says. “But he was always so selfless and committed to getting food to where people in his community really needed it.”

While the lockdown is beginning to ease, Cyrus has no intention of letting up.

“Me and my mom and my sister have discussed this a lot, and we don’t want this to just be a COVID activity,” he says. “COVID is the thing that definitely inspired it, but we don’t want it to stop when COVID ends.”

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