Feeding the Need

The Little Angels Foundation serves hot, home-cooked meals to refugees, immigrants, and the unhoused community in St. Louis.

Community

Story By Heather Riske
Visuals By Michael Thomas

Farah Alam couldn’t fit her car in the garage for several months, but that was the least of her concerns.

She was more focused on finding a home for the 12,000 pounds of groceries she and her husband, Riz Khan, had collected for the Little Angels Foundation, the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization they run out of their house in Clayton. Little Angels provides free nutritious, home-cooked meals to children, refugees, immigrants, and the unhoused community in St. Louis, and the couple’s own home has become its de facto headquarters. Their basement more closely resembles the aisles of a grocery store, lined with storage boxes overflowing with bags of basmati rice, chickpeas, chaki atta (whole-wheat flour), kidney beans, and other bulk ingredients.

Alam and Khan, who immigrated to St. Louis from India in 2005 when Alam was pursuing her MBA from Washington University in St. Louis, founded the Little Angels Foundation in memory of their late son. Initially, they aimed to support children in need with canned foods and school supplies, but as they started to see the level of food insecurity in St. Louis, they shifted course. In 2018, they began serving meals to the unhoused community, and the organization has since provided over 164,347 meals to St. Louisans in need.

“Food is a very basic human right,” says Khan, who also serves on the board of directors for the United Nations Association of Saint Louis. “Not everybody will be rich, not everybody will have a car, a house, a job. But food? Everybody deserves food, no questions, no debates. Everybody should eat.”

Farah Alam, Riz Khan, and a team of volunteers portion home cooked meals into portable containers in the couple's Clayton home.

In addition to Alam and Khan, Little Angels is run by a team of 50-plus volunteers ranging in age from 3 to 85 years old. Each week, volunteers take turns purchasing groceries, cooking meals, and handing them out to those in need. They take pride in the work, and Khan says volunteers will often fight for a slot on the signup sheet when it’s posted in their WhatsApp group each Monday.  

Unlike many similar organizations fighting food insecurity, Little Angels is not a faith-based group. Alam and Khan intend to bring together a diverse team of volunteers from any faith — or no faith — to serve under one roof.

“A lot of organizations now have checked the boxes for diversity, equity, and inclusion, but without having those words in our mission or vision, they are the fabric of what we do,” Alam says. “We want to leverage it to make sure that everyone in our community is strong, that they are fed and that people don’t go hungry. For us, diversity is a cause for celebration and it’s the most beautiful part of life. We want to welcome everybody, no matter who they are, where they are from, what they believe in or don’t believe in, and we are all going to work together.”

Riz Khan (pictured far left) and Farah Alam (pictured center) pose with three Little Angels volunteers on a sunny Saturday morning.

Every Saturday, Little Angels serves more than 200 hot, home-cooked meals to the unhoused community in St. Louis. Volunteers prepare the various dishes in their own homes and then meet up at the couple’s house in Clayton to portion them out in compostable buffet trays — the organization does not use any plastic or styrofoam. Meals typically feature a hearty, protein-heavy vegetarian main course, such as pasta with vegetables or chickpeas with rice, served with a dinner roll, salad, fresh fruit, homemade cookie, water, and coffee. 

Volunteers will then pack up trays of meals and head downtown, where they set up a table on the sidewalk along Tucker Street, near the St. Patrick Center, to hand out free meals. In the evening, another group of volunteers will distribute even more meals to various local shelters. Rain or shine, sweltering summer day or frigid winter morning, Little Angels will show up with food for anyone who needs it — no questions asked.

“You meet really kind people who have just fallen on bad times for different reasons; sometimes it’s chronic illness, sometimes it’s mental health,” Alam says. “Some people have been able to get back up on their feet, find a job, and get back into housing and they want to come back and serve meals to other people that need them. That’s been very heartening.”

In addition to hot, home-cooked meals, Little Angels also distributes supplies for severe weather, including winter coats, hand warmers, and Mylar thermal emergency blankets, to those in need. Through partnerships with the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry and the International Institute of St. Louis, Little Angels has also expanded its reach beyond the unhoused community to support immigrants, refugees, and people transitioning out of prison life. 

Over the past two years, Little Angels has donated over 15,000 pounds of groceries to immigrants and refugees living in St. Louis. Alam and Khan started working with the International Institute of St. Louis in late 2021, when a large influx of Afghan refugees began resettling in the city. They provided halal meat, culturally responsive groceries, and household items for drive-thru distribution events and also cooked homemade meals for more than 200 refugees temporarily living in hotels. 

Carlos Suarez, director of economic development for the International Institute of St. Louis, says Little Angels played a key role in helping the organization provide services during that time and making refugees feel welcome in St. Louis.

“They were very organized and really took the challenge that was presented at the time,” Suarez says. “They were going beyond providing food — it was really providing hope and support in that process and building community. Any time there was an urgent need outside of that, they were always at the beck and call. They make the most out of every resource they have available, they’re very productive and efficient, and they put a lot of attention to detail in knowing who their clients are and what their needs are. They really are champions for addressing food insecurity.”

The Little Angels team packages up home-cooked food and drives downtown, near the St. Patrick Center, to share meals with those in need.

As they continue to expand the reach of Little Angels to serve more members of the community, Alam and Khan are eager to find a permanent home for the organization. Because Little Angels is currently based out of their own home, it’s not eligible for large charitable contributions from many big-box stores, and they are in desperate need of more space for supplies and production. Having a brick-and-mortar location would also allow the organization to expand its services for those in need, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner multiple days a week. 

The small but mighty organization has caught the attention of organizations such as the Ferrari Club of America, the Lamborghini Club of America, ND4SPD Car Club, and RP Exotics, who hosted an auction for Little Angels and raised $25,000 in January. Last year, Alam and Khan appeared on the “Good Neighbors” segment of The Kelly Clarkson Show, where Clarkson shocked the couple by matching a $10,000 donation from Save-A-Lot to support Little Angels’ mission. In order to continue serving those in need, Little Angels will need more sustained investment, but its founders stay motivated by their shared passion for helping others.

“Even a small organization can make a big difference in the hearts of people,” Alam says. “Whatever we do, we do it with a lot of heart. We do it with a lot of passion, and we do it with the same love and respect that we would grant to a friend or family member. I feel like the biggest change we are making is that everybody who has served with us has found the joy of giving. The more people who discover that, the better for our community.”

Riz Khan and Farah Alam pose outside their home in Clayton.

Join the Story

  • Learn more about Little Angels Foundation on its website.
  • Connect with the organization on Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Donate to help support the work of the organization here.