Updated: April 24, 2021 12:41:37 pm
In scenes that seem eerily familiar to last year, members of Ghar Ghar Langar Seva in Ahmednagar have been preparing food in large quantities since March 4 when the municipal corporation informed them that the Covid-19 situation was beginning to look serious once again.
“We were managing Covid centres during the last pandemic too, and this time, we have 255 patients in a hotel and a hostel that have been converted into healthcare facilities. We started preparing food for them and then, as the numbers exploded, we began getting calls from people who are suffering from the virus and cannot cook,” says Harjeet Singh Wadhwa of Ghar Ghar Langar Seva.
The group of 35 volunteers is working hard to ensure food for the people who contact them. “Last year, we were able to distribute food door-to-door, but this time, we are worried because every other house has somebody infected. The volunteers are, nonetheless, delivering food. Some of the most urgent calls are from senior citizens who are confined to their homes. We also receive calls from their children, who stay outside the country, requesting us to arrange for an ambulance or meals for their elderly parents who live here. Then, there are migrants at the railway station who are hungry,” says Wadhwa, adding that they sent out 450 food packets on Friday.
Members of the civil societies are also coming together to provide support. Among them are food entrepreneurs such as Ronita Ghosh, whose made-to-order biryanis and other dishes used to be a hit among foodies in Mumbai and Pune before the pandemic.
She is using the infrastructure of her company, Jikoni, to now deliver “Happiness Dabbas” that include a variety of khichdi for patients, families of patients, workers and ambulance drivers of Sassoon Hospital, migrant labourers, and policemen.
City-based petroleum engineer Aakanksha Sadakar, too, cooks “khichdi with lots of vegetables” and drives out to deliver it to hungry frontline workers, such as policemen, and beggars and the destitute.
Neither Ghosh, nor Sadakar, had imagined the magnitude of the crisis when they started. The former had prepared for 50 families on her first day and realised that “30 packets went to migrants on the road who were asking for something to eat”.
“We not make 310 dabbas. Each dabba has 500 ml of khichdi,” she says.
Sadakar, on the other hand, aimed for 5-10 people on the first day but now buys 100 kg of rice and 120 kg dal — which cost around Rs 15,000 — which, too, lasts for not more than six days.
“On Friday, I cooked 100 dabbas and took them to people on the streets of Pune. I do get tired by the end of the day and will soon have to look for volunteers,” she added.
Most private individuals working to feed the hungry are procuring provisions with their own money and support from friends, family and acquaintances. “Some Jikoni customers even leave dry rations so that I can concentrate only on cooking,” says Ghosh.
Vishnupriya Mishra, a marketing consultant and founder of a small online houseplant start-up called Unlock Nature, was reminded about her anxieties as a Covid patient last year when India found itself in the middle of the second wave. She consulted with a nutritionist to create a diet that included lots of proteins to help her regain her strength.
“I understood the importance of having healthy food. If people do not get proper food, it impacts their recovery. Also, the taste buds do not support you a lot when you have Covid,” she said.
She has reached out to housing societies and social media groups to offer simple home-cooked food with green vegetable and protein sources.
Dunzo has offered to help her deliver. Every day, based on her own nutrition counselling, she prepares around 9-10 vegetarian packets of dal, chapati, vegetable and a protein in the form of ‘paneer bhurji’ or ‘palak paneer’.
“I cook these myself. I do not have help and that is why I have not been able to scale up production. I am afraid that if I get two or three people to help, I would not know who is safe and who is not,” she said, while adding, “Hygiene is very important as the body is very weak while recovering from Covid. It is crucial that people, who are getting food delivered, know who they are taking it from.”
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