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'Love plus falafel': Syrian refugee feeds US government staff for free

As the US goes through its longest government shutdown, Yassin Terou comes to the aid of unpaid workers
Yassin Terou is a Syrian refugee living in Tennessee and the owner of Yassin's Falafel House restaurants (Supplied)

A Syrian refugee resettled in the United States is offering free meals at his restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee to US federal government employees affected by the current government shutdown, which entered its 35th day on Friday.

Yassin Terou, who arrived in the US from Damascus in 2011, said he felt compelled to help the community that helped him “start a new chance at life”. 

“Since we’ve come here, the American community has given us a lot of love and been very supportive to us,” Terou, the owner of Yassin’s Falafel House, told Middle East Eye. 

“So we thought we need to do something to help our brothers and sisters who have been working very hard and not getting paid.”

The US government is currently in its longest ever shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for funding to build a border wall.

The partial closure since 22 December is impacting 800,000 federal workers and leaving over 300,000 people without salaries this month.

Terou made his announcement on his restaurant’s Facebook page. He said the business was happy to serve the employees “because they have been serving us all [these] days and we are not going to [leave] them alone.”

Workers and their children receive a free meal by showing their staff ID cards when ordering.

Voted the "Nicest Place in America" in 2018 by Reader's Digest magazine, Terou said his business does not have a political agenda, describing the restaurant’s message as one of “love”. 

A sign in the restaurant reads: "Welcome all sizes, all colors, all ages, all sexes, all cultures, all religions, all types, all beliefs. All people safe here at Yassin's Falafel House". 

Wanting to pay from his own pocket out of a desire to give back to the community, Terou has turned away most donation offers to help fund the free food initiative.

“When you help your community, you never lose money,” Terou said. 

“We all need love, plus falafel."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.