By Ruth Morris
Port-au-Prince - Before a massive earthquake laid waste to the Haitian capital, the Muncheez pizza restaurant was beyond the means of most, even in the smart suburb of Petionville where it is located.
But since the disaster struck a little over two weeks ago, the upmarket pizzeria in Port-au-Prince has started catering to a different clientele: the desperate, starving survivors of a devastated city.
Kitchen staffers who are sleeping on the streets themselves cook up 1 000 free meals every day.
"The day after the quake we realised we have all this food inside, and a generator for two days. It's just going to go bad, so we're going to cook for the people who need it," explained co-owner Gilbert Bailly.
The lines grew fast and soon neighbours were donating food as thousands of dollars also flowed in from friends and family in the United States to help the bizarre aid venture.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) brought Muncheez a truckload of rice, beans, cornmeal and cooking oil.
The elegant Montana Hotel, which collapsed in the quake, offered what could be saved from its freezers.
"That was a gourmet day," recalled Bailly. "Steak, sausage, turkey."
As demand surged, Bailly broke out 10 000 blue bracelets he had been saving for carnival parties in February and distributed them in outlying areas of the flattened capital.
"One bracelet, one meal. It's random," he acknowledged. "But I know somebody ate. That's the most important thing to me."
Bailly was critical of the organisation of large food distributions by international aid groups, but also recognised that Haitian officials who understand the Caribbean nation best weren't stepping in to help either.
He said he was unsure how long he and his partners could continue to feed so many hungry mouths. They hoped to be able to pay their staff a half-salary at the end of the month.
"It's like therapy, to put a smile on people's faces. This consumes you," Bailly said of the free meals provided by the restaurant. "But every morning we wake up and say, 'How are we going to feed our family at the end of this?'"
The final toll from the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck Haiti on January 12 is expected to be around 150 000, making it the worst disaster on record in the Americas. An estimated one million people have also been left homeless. - Sapa-AFP