Food  |  News & Politics

Family Behind Lapis and Berliner Receives Outpouring of Donations for Afghan Refugees

The Popal family fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in 1980.

Volunteers work to sort through donations at Lapis. Photo courtesy of Fatima Popal.

Sitting and watching the news coming out of Afghanistan was “killing” Fatima Popal, whose family owns Afghan bistro Lapis, the Berliner beer hall, and French cafe Lutéce. She called her brother Omar, also a partner in the restaurant group, and said they needed to find a way to give back to the Afghan people.

For the Popal family, this is personal. They fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in 1980, when Omar was around one and half and Fatima was a newborn. The scenes are too familiar.

“It’s so surreal because the images you see now are what we had experienced in the sense of we had to rush to get passports, we had to rush to get to the airport, we had to rush to leave,” Omar says. “It was us walking on the tarmac to go to the plane. It’s all exposed, and the whole time you’re like, ‘Are they going to shoot us from behind? What’s going on?’”

Both siblings are still deeply connected to their home country. Omar visited earlier this year, and Fatima spent time living and working in Afghanistan.

“For me, not only being an Afghan but being someone who worked toward the development of this country within the past 20 years, [the Taliban takeover] was quite hard for me to see,” Fatima says. “Even now, still, I get emotional talking about it. It’s actually been really hard. I kept telling my friends yesterday was one of the first days I didn’t cry just thinking about Afghanistan.”

Though they no longer have immediate family in Afghanistan, they have many close friends who are stuck and trying to get out. It’s difficult to communicate, Omar says, because the power in Kabul, as always, goes in and out.

“Internet is very, very weak. It’s like a 3G network, if that,” Omar says. “We are able to WhatsApp them. They’re on Instagram. Everyone’s just scared at home, cautiously anticipating what the reality is versus what they’re saying.”

The family is currently collecting donations at two of their DC restaurants: Lapis (1847 Columbia Rd., NW) and the Berliner (3401 Water St., NW). They’re partnering with the International Rescue Committee and Lutheran Social Services.

“I knew the community would pull through, but I didn’t think it was gonna be this much,” Fatima says. “We are humbled, so, so humbled and blessed with everyone, their support, their love, donating not only items, but their time. It’s amazing. It’s amazing to see how everyone’s come together.”

The following items must be donated new: bedding, linens, pillows, blankets, towels, washcloths and cleaning supplies. Other items need to be very lightly used or they won’t be taken. Here’s what else you can donate:

  • mixing/serving bowls
  • kitchen utensils (spatulas, wooden spoons, knives, serving utensils)
  • can openers
  • pots and pans
  • waste baskets
  • trash bags
  • mops or brooms
  • alarm clocks

Please note clothing donations are no longer accepted. The needed items change daily, so check Lapis’ Instagram before dropping any off. You can also donate Uber and Lyft gift cards.

Donations are only accepted on weekdays, not during the weekend. If you want to volunteer to help organize the donations, send an email to afghanrefugeesdc@gmail.com.

Going forward, Omar wants to figure out how to ensure every family arriving gets an Afghan meal. He also wants to funnel all of the information into one place and help families navigate their new home.

“I remember when we came to the United States as refugees, there was a lot that we didn’t know,” Omar says. “I feel like life is a bit easier now with the Internet and Google. I just look back at some of the difficulties we had, and hopefully we can make it a lot easier for these families.”

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