When Rizwan Khan joined his wife in St. Louis in 2005, where she was working on her MBA, it was a struggle. While in his home country of India, Riz worked with multimillion-dollar companies. Then, after studying in the UK, he left school to join the Sony Corporation as a Sales & Customer Service Specialist. But 18 years ago, upon his arrival in the U.S., finding a job was a challenge. It was also around the time he and his wife, Farah, lost their son.
Eventually, he was hired at an investment firm as a global marketing director, and in 2013, he founded Little Angels Foundation, originally created to help children in resource-scarce communities, in memory of his son. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and he once again found himself looking for work, he decided to run the organization full-time.
Riz shifted gears as the unhoused and food insecure population increased. Today, Little Angels Foundation has served over 151,000 meals to children, the unhoused, migrants and refugees. They’ve also distributed over 20,250 pounds of groceries to those in need.
What inspires you to volunteer?
My focus was initially to help kids. Schools would reach out to me when they needed school supplies, canned food for their pantry or school bags. When the pandemic started, it was a call to expand from being solely a children’s foundation. So, in 2020, I included the unhoused and the Hispanic communities in our mission, who were hit the hardest at that time.
Describe your volunteer role with Little Angels Foundation.
When we started serving food, my wife, 11-year-old daughter and I would make 30-40 simple hot meals and pack them in boxes to take downtown where unhoused individuals were living in tents. Then I talked to my friends about how we could reach out to more people. After that, we all started cooking hot meals in our own homes. Now, I have 70-80 volunteers from eight years old to 83, and they cook with us.
The food comes to my house, and we put it in boxes. Then, I take about 50 of them downtown every Saturday morning, 10:30 am-12:30 pm, regardless of weather. Then, in the evening, we serve 50-70 meals in a shelter. Sunday morning, we serve about 60 meals at second shelter. In total, we serve almost 200 hot meals every week. My dad used to say, “Do something that you love.” So here I am.
In 2021, I got a call from the International Institute’s senior manager who needed help with food for 200+ refugees from Afghanistan. LAF doesn’t have any grants. Whatever we do comes from our own pocket, so I didn’t know if I could do it, but I signed up for three weeks. We lasted nearly five months.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
A few months ago, a woman who had recently moved to town called me. She and her husband didn’t have food, and they’d heard about us. Every week, she would come and take food from our table. Then, about two or three weeks ago, she sent me a text: “Riz, I got a job. Thank you so much. I don’t need food anymore.”
This has happened two or three times with different people. This is what inspires me to help. We’re able to directly help people and change lives. All of my friends and volunteers are making a huge difference. Together, we are stronger.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
We don’t have to be experts to be helpful. We all know what is right and what is wrong. We all should find one thing that we care about and start doing that. Things will change drastically.
Tell me about participating in UN Day last year.
I was invited by the United Nations to be on a panel alongside the Mayor of St Louis, Tishoura Jones, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, David McFarland.
The discussion was about food insecurity and its relationship to peace. I believe that if our stomachs are full, there will be less conflict and crime. Food, shelter and water are human rights. No discussion. It was an honor to be at the event. And last month, I was offered a position on the Board of Directors with the United Nations Association of St. Louis.
Are there any future partnerships, programs or events you are excited about?
We want to add more shelters to our program to help more families throughout the week. Since April 2020, I’ve sought partnerships with food retail organizations, but we’ve always paid for everything out of pocket. This year, we’re going to try to apply for grants, because now that it’s getting bigger, we need help.
I’m also looking for a bigger space. Right now, everything is in my home. 60% is occupied by groceries and supplies. We’re currently serving about 200 people. My aim is to serve about 500 people by April.
Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved?
When I was growing up, my mother would help a poor family whose daughter was getting married or people who needed contributions to build a church or a mosque or a temple. My dad also used to say that if you have a piece of bread, cut it in half. Eat half and give somebody else half so you are both are half-full. I am following my what my dad and my mom taught me.
One of the best, kindest countries in the world is the U.S. People are willing to help, and this has all truly inspired me. I’m trying to be a better person every day and leave a story behind for my family and friends.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
We all just need to come together to help whoever needs it. Apart from the tables we set up, I carry fruits in my car. At a red light, if I see some people asking for help, I always have something to give them. When you’re doing good things, you feel nice and want to do more.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Riz? Find local volunteer opportunities.