As India slowly comes to terms with the 21-day lockdown to check the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the national capital are opening up their kitchens to help the poor and the hungry.
Individuals, RWAs, restaurants and commercial establishments are organising food distribution drives to feed the underprivileged who have been left high and dry without food or money to get through the shutdown period.
56-year-old Ajay Kulshrestha, resident of Delhi’s Masjid Moth is leading one such food distribution drive from his housing society along with his neighbour and friend Dushyant.
On March 24, Kulshrestha and Dushyant approached their Resident Welfare Association (RWA) with an urgent appeal to the 150 families in their DDA colony to provide whatever they could to help the daily wagers around Masjid Moth.
“On the first day of the lockdown, we got a moderate response; 15 families volunteered to help,” says Kulshrestha.
“But thereafter from 15 food packets on Day 1, we distributed over 150 to daily wagers on Wednesday – the 8th day of the lockdown. The number of volunteers has also been increasing every day,” he added
The colony now follows a set routine, every morning the RWA Secretary messages the colony’s WhatsApp group asking for volunteers for the day’s food distribution.
The volunteers, named ‘Annapoornas’ by the Secretary, inform the RWA about the contribution they are making. By early evening, the residents make food packets containing assorted items like ‘dal’, ‘chawal’, ‘paranthas’, ‘poori’, ‘subzi’, bread, fruits, dry rations and leave them at the grocery store located at the main gate of the colony.
Kulshrestha and other volunteers distribute the packets among the jobless daily wagers living in the nearby slums.
A businessman and a diehard Delhiite, Kulshrestha has been a resident of Masjid Moth since 1980. He calls it our duty to help needy people in the city in whatever manner possible during these times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have an obligation to ensure that the needy don’t go hungry in times of this crisis. Our exercise is entirely voluntary, we do not pool any money and will continue to help out till the lockdown is lifted on April 14,” Kulshrestha says.
Lending support to individuals like Kulshrestha, several NGOs, community kitchens, civil society groups and organisations are also actively helping out the poor with food and other essential items.
Restaurants Open for Daily Wagers
The lockdown has forced many restaurants to shut down or curtail their operations. But some have opened their doors only to feed the poor.
Mahabelly in Delhi’s upmarket DLF Mall in Saket recently started food distribution to migrant labourers living in the South Delhi’s Hauz Rani area.
Known for its sumptuous coastal Kerala cuisine, the five-year-old restaurant opened its doors to feed 150 daily wagers vegetable biryani this Tuesday.
“Upon receiving information of a migrant labourer settlement in need of meals because of the COVID-19 outbreak in nearby Hauz Rani we decided to begin our food distribution drive” say the co-founders of Mahabelly, Thomas Fenn and Zachariah Jacob.
Mahabelly’s first food distribution drive was done for free with very limited manpower owing to social distancing and hygiene restrictions. Both owners, however, want to engage in more food distribution drives. But the supply of rations in large quantity remains an issue.
The restaurant is now working with the National Restaurant Association of India’s Feed The Needy initiative to widen their reach.
The Delhi Govt has also scaled up its food distribution drive to cover 2 lakh, people, daily. It is taking the help of religious institutions, NGOs and private companies for the task.
They are supplementing the Government’s efforts to ensure food security and direct cash transfer benefits for the poor to overcome their current financial difficulties.
“The underprivileged have been hit the hardest in this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. And good food has a very unique way of cheering people up,” Fenn and Jacob say in a lighter vein.
With all commercial establishments, except those dealing in essential items, closed till April 14 to prevent community transmission of COVID-19, daily wagers have an insurmountable task to feed themselves and their families.
In these trying times, they can only count on help from the community to overcome the current crisis.