A talented Afghan cook is the beneficiary of a fundraising dinner to help him succeed in Portland

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Those who organized and cooked the festive Afghan feast are shown here. In the back row, from left: Chris Leoni, Sarah Leoni, Sarah Weick, Erica Keeley, and Khaled Alshehab. In the middle row: Kerri Babin and Ahmad Jawed Sayed Zada; and in the bottom row: Steve Keeley and Seth Otto. Ahmad Jawed Sayed Zada — a refugee from Afghanistan -- prepared a feast of Afghan food for 32 people who attended a benefit dinner at Kenilworth Presbyterian Church on Saturday evening, April 9th. The church is situated at 4028 S.E. 34th Avenue.

Jawed and his family, including his wife and six young children, fled Afghanistan in August of last year, and arrived in Portland in October. They endured many hardships along the way, but are thankful to be in Portland, sponsored by Catholic Charities of Oregon.

A number of Southeast churches are sponsoring Afghan families, and Kenilworth Presbyterian decided to support the effort last fall when church leaders were approached by Sarah Leoni, owner of Sama Planning, a local event planning company, and Kerrie Babin, coordinator of Tibbetts House Refugee Ministry at St. Ignatius Catholic Church.

Leoni and Babin were looking for space to host a benefit dinner for Jawed and his family in order to raise some money to help the family resettle in Portland. Babin and Leoni worked with church leaders to organize the dinner held at Kenilworth Presbyterian.

"It was wonderfully rewarding work serving as facilities coordinator," remarked Laura Schaefer, church member and office assistant. "Lots of questions were involved in preparing to cook for the crowd, and in transforming our staid meeting room into an Afghan-style restaurant. Kenilworth's website also provided an easy way for other donors not planning to attend the dinner to join in making contributions for Jawed's family. About $4,000 was simply donated there."

Babin commented, "Sarah [Leoni] did all the decorating and volunteer coordinating, donated her time as an event planner, and did a wonderful job." Babin reported that the dinner benefit and pre-event contributions raised a total of $7,200 to support Jawed and his family.

Once in Portland, Jawed was fortunate to get a job almost immediately, downtown, as a chef, because of his culinary experience. Culinary interests started early for Jawed; as a young boy he loved good food, and when was older he opened a small grocery store in Kabul with his brother. He took a second job as a chef, cooking for U.S. and allied forces, and it was this job that taught him about American food — but also allowed him to prepare Afghan dishes for the American soldiers and contractors.

The feast Jawed prepared for the dinner at Kenilworth Presbyterian was a testament to his comment, "Once you taste Afghan food, you won't want to eat anything else." The six-course meal overflowed with delicate and unique tastes, elegant presentation, and generous servings.

Jawed's job in downtown Portland is at "DarSalam", a restaurant serving Middle Eastern and Iraqi dishes. As with so many restaurants, it was hard-hit by the pandemic, resulting in the closure of the S.E.Hawthorne location. The N.E. Alberta and S.W Alder at 3rd Avenue restaurants are still open, and Shaymaa AlQuriqehee, co-owner, says she is very happy to have Jawed as chef at the downtown location.

"He is very smart and learns quickly, and his cooking is the best," she commented at the April church dinner.

Jawed is very grateful for the support he and his family have received, and for being able to share his culinary skills with an appreciative community. Babin added, "Jawed is currently in negotiations for purchasing a food cart, and is looking for cart space in Selwood."

Of Kenilworth Presbyterian Church, Babin says, "They were so generous in working with us, and they do so much to support Southeast Portland families and schools." For more about the church, go online —

And to learn more about the Afghan refugee community in the Portland area and Oregon, go online to — HYPERLINK "" \t "_blank"

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