How India is ensuring no one goes hungry during Covid-19 crisis

Updated on Mar 31, 2020 05:24 PM IST

A number of NGOs, restaurants and organisations have turned into good samaritans in this time of extreme crisis for the needy, and are ensuring that they survive this pandemic

A child being fed(Photos: The Art of living foundation, Chandra Sekhar Kundu)
A child being fed(Photos: The Art of living foundation, Chandra Sekhar Kundu)
Mumbai | BySammohinee Ghosh and Sonil Dedhia

Nearly a fortnight ago, the picture of a young boy in Palakkad, Kerala, elated to find his Anganwadi teacher paying him a visit, won the internet. The teacher was delivering midday meal supplies to homes of children. In the wake of this pandemic, and the absolute necessity of social distancing, Kerala didn’t ignore the fact that 22 million children in the state depend on federally subsidised food — food is that essential!

With the 21-day lockdown in effect, the needy in India received a double whammy. They fear hunger will kill them before the virus. But humanity is here to pen a story of hope. Individuals and organisations have come together to provide the poor with basic necessities. We speak to restaurant owners, activists and NGOs about their initiatives, the reach and difficulties in ensuring safe circulation of products.

Power of kitchen

“Calls come in early in the morning. We start preparing immediately, as once lunch has been delivered, dinner can be started with,” says Aqib Shaikh, proprietor of The Biryani Hub in Varca, Goa. Feeding 600 mouths daily is no small task. Aqib has two cooks to lead from the front and he gets by with a lot of help from his family. “Earlier, we were cooking at my restaurant. Usual customers would queue up to place orders and I had to shut shop. The whole point of quarantine is to avoid gatherings and thus, I shifted the setup to my home,” he adds. The manager stresses that making food in sanitised surroundings and getting it delivered without direct contact is a huge responsibility. The vehicles used for transportation are deep cleaned every day and food packets are given out only from a distance with protective gear on, Aqib explains.

Children in Aansol line up for lunch, maintaining three feet distance
Children in Aansol line up for lunch, maintaining three feet distance

Mumbai’s Arif Qureshi, owner, Mughal’s Kitchen, Bhandup, is doing his share for the larger community. Arif thinks humans have always taken touch for granted.” With a sparse team, he delivers food to daily wage earners (currently unemployed) across the city. “Once we are in a locality that houses the underprivileged, we place a chair and ask people to line up maintaining a distance of three to four feet from one another. As the queue proceeds, we place food packets one by one to be collected individually. My team is in gloves and face masks throughout,” he says.

Dry ration and food items with a longer shelf life are best suited for a calamity. Apart from arranging for healthy, hygienic meals, Rasoi On Wheels, a foundation located in Gurugram, Haryana, delivers dry food to the poor. The body functions on donations that are exempted of tax deductions.

Lending a hand

“Earlier, I used to live like any other selfish man. I taught at an engineering college and took care of my family, and that was it,” says Chandra Sekhar Kundu, founder, FEED. FEED or Food, Education and Economic Development has been taking care of stone quarry workers’ children for four years now. “We teach them and serve them meals two times a day. With the virus taking a toll on their livelihood, we are feeding their parents, too, and other needy adults. Classes are on hold,” Chandra adds. He further says that sanitation is their chief concern and through crowdfunding, protective kits have been bought for the people of the area.

The Art of Living Foundation and The Indian Film and Television Industry have joined hands to make kits containing rice, pulses, oil, spices, salt and soap available to the poor. “Nearly 9,000 migrant workers across Bangalore, Surat and Mumbai have received these items. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, along with the support of health workers, identified our beneficiaries. We follow social distancing protocol to the T,” says Darshak Hathi, President, IAHV International and International Director, Art of Living.

Trucks with essential items being transported
Trucks with essential items being transported

Other food drives

Hari Kotian, partner at DP’S restaurant has started a free dal and rice and khichdi service to feed the needy. “We have a lot of migrant labourers working with us so we can understand the situation of daily wage earners. We decided to start this and one thing led to another. Now, we have friends and families, who have come ahead to contribute in whatever capacity they can,” Hari adds.

He says that they have plans to tie up with NGOs and the Mumbai police force, “An NGO called Ratnanidhi trust gave us 7,500 ready khichdi mixes to make and distribute. We are in talks with the cops who have assured us that they will provide BEST buses to pick up food from our outlets and distribute it all over Mumbai.”

Sandeep Shetty, owner of Sadguru’s restaurant in Chembur, says, “My friend Vishal Aswani and I were discussing what we could do for the people, and we came across this idea of distributing food packets to whoever needs it. On an average we have around 1,500 odd people coming in every day. This initiative was mostly started for people like maids, watchmen and people on the roads, who don’t have anyone to feed them. We don’t ask any questions. You have to come stand in the queue, wear a mask, sanitise your hands and take the food packet.”

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