Word spread quickly around town in 2016 when Shereen Gomaa began offering up her freshly cooked Egyptian and Middle Eastern creations for catered family meals and small group meetings.
Before long, Delicious by Shereen, the nonprofit founded by Shereen to help refugee women like Nada al-Asad gain financial footing through their shared love of cooking, began catering larger events such as weddings and fundraisers.
Members of The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem became big fans, impressed with the tasty meals they enjoyed at their own meetings and, even more so, with the nonprofit’s mission. Shereen’s primary goal: to help newly resettled refugees adjust to life in America and, ultimately, achieve economic security for their families.
“A lot of these families had a very good life back home — their own home, a car, a job and an education,” explains Shereen, a former accountant who emigrated to the U.S. from Egypt in 2002 for her husband to further his education. They eventually settled in Winston-Salem.
“Suddenly they have to leave everything behind and just get the kids to safety and start from zero. They have to build their lives again when they come here and it is very, very hard.”
Such was the case with Nada and her husband, who fled their native Syria five years ago amid civil war. Nada and Shereen met at a local mosque and soon became fast friends as well as partners in the kitchen. The catering work provides much-needed income for Syrian refugee women like Nada, who because of her husband’s struggles with heart disease and diabetes is now the primary provider for their family of five children, ages 5 to 12.
“She is one of the hardest-working women I know,” Shereen says. “She is the backbone for her family.”
Two years ago Shereen’s nonprofit received its first grant from The Women’s Fund to launch Delicious Development, a year-long program that provides ESL and financial-management classes to a rotating pool of 10-12 refugee women as well as culinary training, community connections and economic opportunities.
Shereen sees food as a universal connector that does so much more than nourish the body. It builds bridges.
“We eat together, we share food together, this makes us closer,” says Shereen, a 2018 recipient of the Foundation’s ECHO Award, which recognized community members creatively building social capital.
“Food breaks down the barrier and the fear in each of us. Food brings us together as one big family. We can learn from each other and appreciate our differences and our experiences.”
Nada herself participated in Delicious Development and benefitted in many ways, she says. “It helped me learn the language and how to live here. Now I am proud that I can actually help my husband and provide for our family.”
For Shereen, giving back to the larger community is equally as important as providing opportunities for these newcomers. The nonprofit helps prepare meals for interfaith efforts like the Bethesda Center for the Homeless and Senior Services’ Meals-on-Wheels program for older adults.
“At the end of the day, we are all human beings,” she says. “We breathe the same air, we want to be happy, we want our kids to be successful, we want to give back.”