By Andrea May Sahouri, Des Moines Register
When Ahmed Aldoori moved to Iowa from his native Iraq in 2013, the only English words he knew were “yes” and “no.”
He had no family here, no friends, and remembers how difficult it was to navigate his new life. Landing a job, learning the ways of the city, and finding community were all tough.
So when resettlement agencies asked Aldoori, who came to Iowa as a refugee and now owns a food truck, if he’d prepare hot meals for Afghan evacuees arriving in Des Moines, he said “absolutely.”
“It was hard at the beginning. I feel for these people,” Aldoori told the Des Moines Register.
Ahmed Aldoori, an Iraqi immigrant and owner of the new Heisenberg Mediterranean food truck, prepares a meal on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at a location in Clive. Aldoori has been working with Catholic Charities and USCRI to provide hot meals to Afghan evacuees when they arrive to Des Moines.
Aldoori, 32, lives in Des Moines’ Merle Hay neighborhood with his wife and two children, and operates the Heisenberg Mediterranean food truck, named after Walter White’s alias played by Bryan Cranston in Aldoori’s favorite television show, “Breaking Bad.”
Iowa officials expect to receive about 700 Afghan evacuees in the first wave of resettlements, prompted by the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan. Resettlement agencies like the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Lutheran Services in Iowa and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Des Moines have already helped more than 100 Afghans settle into their new Iowa homes.
The Des Moines metro lacks Afghan restaurants, so the Iraqi food Aldoori makes — traditional halal dishes like rice and meat, kabobs, shawarma and more — may be the closest taste of home Afghan refugees can find.
“They love it,” said Aldoori, who has provided hundreds of free or discounted meals. “… I’m just happy to help, however I can.”
Aldoori’s first job in Des Moines was working 12-hour shifts at a south-side Culver’s restaurant. He worked construction, then a trucking job, before starting the food truck, through which he’s also helped feed some unhoused people in the community. Despite closing the food truck for the season, he said he’ll continue to provide meals through the winter for those in need.
“I want to help get people back on their feet,” he said. “Afghans, anybody. I’ve struggled. There were times when I was broke, no car, walking for hours from La Tapatia to Army Post Road. I had to stand up on my feet again, too.
“I’ve worked so hard to get here,” Aldoori said. Giving back, he said, is the easy part.
How you can help
There are three resettlement agencies in central Iowa: The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Des Moines, and Lutheran Services in Iowa.
Here are some ways you can support these organizations and help Afghans resettle in Iowa:
Lutheran Services in Iowa is seeking financial support, volunteers and in-kind donations. Click here to donate, and learn more about their services here. Email [email protected] for volunteer-related questions or [email protected] for donation questions.
The Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Des Moines is looking for financial support and volunteers. Volunteers would provide transportation to necessary appointments, help organize donations and assist in setting up apartments. Donations would help cover costs of services, such as medical, housing, and food services, and supplies that are not donated, mostly furniture. For more information, and to donate, click here or contact Kelyn Anker at 515-237-5095.
Donate to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants by clicking here or calling 515-528-7525. To volunteer for the agency, you can also email them at [email protected]
Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone 515-284-8247.