Antoinette Kazan has been helping others for as long as she can remember. She says, “I grew up in a house that, since we were kids, our parents took care of the poor and needy.” After pursuing studies to become a nurse, social worker, and health educator, she dedicated her life to supporting displaced people in her community.
Many individuals had to flee their villages due to civil war in Lebanon in the mid-1980s. They didn’t have lodging, food, or medication when they arrived in Lebanon, so Antoinette and her family found many of them a place to stay in a local school and started providing meals.
“We thought it would last only for a week,” she says, “but it stretched from 1983 until this day.”
What started out as one family trying to help out turned into a community of service called the Restaurants du Coeur. “This is not the work of just one person;” Antoinette says. “A person had the idea, but he can’t succeed alone. So this was done as a group—the family, friends, and the benefactors.”
Today there are 23 branches of the Restaurant du Coeur. Each branch is overseen by an association that secures funding and allocates a budget depending on the number of people who come to eat and the number of days they provide food. They often open at 7:00 in the morning, when volunteers arrive to cook the meals for the day, and serve food until 10:00 p.m.
The food is provided in whatever way people prefer. Some come and eat lunch or dinner at the restaurant, enjoying the association. Others pick up the food to eat in their own homes. And in some instances, such as the Sin El Fil branch, the restaurant provides over 300 sandwiches a day for the students of a local school.
When asked about what motivates her to continue her efforts, Antoinette says, “These families left their things, their houses, and their lives. They even lost their loved ones there, but they didn’t have to lose their dignity.”
Because the restaurants have been operating for over 30 years now, Antoinette has had the benefit of seeing many of the children who first arrived grow up. Some of them turned out to be doctors, surgeons, bank managers, engineers, and lawyers. Seeing them so successful brings her joy. They will forever be a part of her life because her restaurants are much more than just a free meal; they are a community. Even when individuals find jobs and housing elsewhere, they often continue coming to the restaurants as volunteers. This is a testament to the life-changing impact of Antoinette and her family.