A day after the Vadodara city administration prohibited distribution of food to needy people by volunteers and police, while voluntary groups closed down their kitchens, others revamped their way of functioning to act as a bridge between those in need and the city administration.
The district administration has put in place a machinery for the distribution of food by collaborating with an agency. The decision was taken after a 54-year-old man from Nagarwada area of the city who volunteered in distributing food packets to those in need tested positive on Sunday.
Officer on Special Duty Vinod Rao, who issued the prohibitory orders on Sunday, said, “We have a Vadodara-based businessman, an exporter of food, who has come forward to help in this time of lockdown by packing about 5,300 meals that we need daily. They have a sanitised, hygienic, mechanised cooking and packaging unit where the meals will be prepared to avoid any contamination and also make the distribution more channelised. At the moment the businessman has offered his service at no cost but we will pay a nominal charge later which will paid from the district administration’s National Disaster Management funds.”
Rao said the administration has prepared a list of 5,300 people in need of food packets, including migrant labourers, at three locations in Vadodara as well as those housed in shelter homes.
The administration, he said, has also included a list of senior citizens who were dependent on home cooked tiffin service for their meals until lockdown disrupted their schedule.
People looking to help can contribute grocery kits. The administration has identified 13 relief camps and specific areas where 1,023 people have been sheltered. The list also includes in addition 2,800 senior citizens who stay alone and need assistance in terms of food and VMC’s door-to-door staff.
A student group working tirelessly and feeding over 1,500 families across slums and shelter homes in the city has now taken up the project digitally and is expanding its network to ensure that food is provided to everyone in need.
“We have a team leader for each ward and 10 volunteers working with the leader. We are a community of students from across the city. Earlier we would go out and distribute food and ration kits ourselves. But now instead we have a database of places from where the food can be acquired and areas where it can be distributed. We have been contacting the authorities to provide the kits or food to them and also enlist the areas where the beneficiaries reside. We have stopped venturing out ourselves. Our task is now to chart out people who are willing to donate and channelise this towards those in need and help the administration,” said Aditya Vegda from Chatra Sansad.
Vallabh Desai from Jay Ambe Trust, who in close coordination with the Vadodara Municipal Corporation distributed food amongst 700-800 people on an average daily said, “We have stopped going out to provide food to the poor and the needy or the homeless after the orders. We have been associated with the night shelters for the last one and a half years and have been providing food. This is in coordination with the VMC and we will continue to do so. But we won’t venture out to voluntarily distribute food anymore. We have partially closed down our kitchens until further orders. If needed we will resume again.”
“We have made it clear that all those who wish to help can do so by making grocery kits of 15 days for one family for as many families as they want. Instead of cooking the meals, they can donate the groceries to those families who can cook for themselves. We have decided that if families can cook for themselves, we will not provide meals. These persons wishing to donate groceries can reach out to the administration and our vehicles will be sent to their respective places to collect the grocery kits as well as take the donor along to distribute the aid directly to the pockets they wish to. This is to avoid individuals from going on their own without following protocols of social distancing,” Rao said.
The administration allowed volunteers to provide food on Monday as the last day before the prohibitory orders are implemented. “This was allowed to be able to transition. The meals being prepared in the mechanised kitchen will also be variety meals and not simple khichdi packets. The idea is to also be able to provide meals that are fuller and better in quality and variety with roti, sabzi and dal and so on,” he said.
While many local leaders have frowned upon the prohibitory order issued by the administration on Sunday, calling it ‘hampering of social work’, Rao said that the decision was taken in consultation with Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. He said, “It is the need of the hour to flatten the curve. We are not being an impediment to good work but facilitating it by ensuring that nobody’s health is compromised. As far as street dwellers are concerned, we have experienced that although we bring them to our shelter homes, they return to the streets because they get more food from multiple volunteers. So, we have asked them now to be present at the shelters if they want meals. At this time, they should gather at the place where the administration has made arrangements for the meals and the administration cannot take the responsibility of finding them on the streets when they refuse to follow advise. We will have to be stern about this.”
The VMC on Monday, issued a release stating that it has distributed more than 5,125 food packets which included distribution of food packets to almost 700 cleanliness workers, twice a day, who are involved in door-to-door garbage collection across the city. In their drive to provide food in the absence of independent voluntary groups, the VMC on Monday also reached out to stranded truck drivers and other drivers between Por and Dumad crossroads and distributed 1,000 food packets and water bottles.
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