Jerry Johnson (left) and Shahzad Raja help themselves the spread laid out by Raja on Tuesday morning at Housing Hope in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jerry Johnson (left) and Shahzad Raja help themselves the spread laid out by Raja on Tuesday morning at Housing Hope in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Local chef spends his birthday giving food to those in need

Shahzad Raja, of Caravan Kebab in Edmonds, to give out 250 lunchboxes to the homeless on Christmas.

EDMONDS — Shahzad Raja turns 46 on Christmas Day. But the Edmonds chef has spent his past three birthdays giving more than receiving.

He started Tuesday at Housing Hope’s Commerce Building in Everett where he brought food from around the world to feed the 48 residents. After that, he drove to King County to hand out food to about twice as many homeless. And on his birthday, he’ll be giving out 250 lunchboxes filled with food for even more people in downtown Seattle.

“I’ve always thought the day I was born was special,” Raja said. “Sharing it with someone else makes me happy. We are all human beings looking for that happiness and what a great opportunity this is.”

Raja is the owner and head chef of Caravan Kebab, an international restaurant on Firdale Avenue in Edmonds that specializes in Mediterranean, Indian and European food.

Previously, he’s focused on giving to homeless people in downtown Seattle. This year marked the first time Raja has given out food in Everett.

He visited Housing Hope on Monday to plan the last-minute event and chose the nonprofit because of its responsible housing practices and organized setup, he said.

“We are extremely grateful for the chef reaching out to us,” said Alex Lark, philanthropy manager for Housing Hope. “He’s going to be bringing a lot of smiles to a lot of people that are trying to get their lives back on track.”

Raja started preparing the food for Housing Hope residents at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. He and his staff make everything from scratch. Preparing something that’s homemade is important to him, he said.

“You taste it and then you feel it,” he said. “We are all humans, and if we take care of other people, it comes back to us and I truly believe that.”

At Housing Hope’s Commerce Building, donations like Raja’s aren’t uncommon, said Sue Tuga, a family support coach. For the past two years, a man and his family have been giving meals during Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this year he couldn’t make it so he provided a pizza dinner Monday night.

Lark said the nonprofit’s steady supply of donors is a testament to all who live in Snohomish County.

And while unexpected, Raja’s gift was certainly welcome, Tuga said.

“We thought it would be a really nice treat for our people here,” Tuga said. “I think it really gives a lot of encouragement to our residents. It reminds them that people care during this special time of year.”

Before Housing Hope tenants dished up plates of rice, chicken and vegetables, they sang “Happy Birthday” and thanked Raja. When they started to eat, he said he’d be back next year.

“We’d be glad to have him,” Lark said.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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