Let no one be Hungry – ‘Food to the Doorstep’
“I was depressed. Whole life looked very negative. But when I joined as a volunteer with the Food to the Doorstep program and started delivering food for the COVID affected at home, life regained its meaning and purpose.” said Joemon Tomy as he shared his experience on Sunday with fellow volunteers and organisers of CoronaCare Bengaluru. There were about 70 of them who listened to such interesting testimonies for two hours at the St Alphonsa Church, Sultan Palaya, Bangalore.
Mr Deepak from The Good Quest Foundation who handled the entire backup data of the eight kitchens CoronaCare Bengaluru had set up since two months presented the overall figures of the food packets we had delivered. Food to the doorstep program has fed 69,617 hungry stomachs in 55 days of the COVID lockdown.
It all started when on the 20th of April the six partners of CoronaCare Bengaluru had a zoom meeting to discuss as to what interventions are needed to support the 10 million Bangalore city during the second wave of COVID. Earlier during the day, the Government had announced night curfew and other restrictions in the city. The Prime Minister addressed the nation in the evening with a call for action.
We the six Christian non-government organisations of Bangalore decided that it was time to act. Hope Society (Claretians), BREADS (Saletians), ECHO (Norbertines), Orione Seva (Sons of Divine Providence) along with two lay agencies called AIFO and The Good Quest Foundation brainstormed on how to ensure that no one goes hungry during COVID season two lockdown. ‘Food to the doorstep’ program was born. All the organisations promised to pool in the resources. Later on, Miserior from Germany stepped in to support us.
We decided to focus on the most vulnerable group – those under quarantine and those infected by COVID and isolated at home. They can’t go out for food. Many of them were too sick to cook for themselves and the family. We decided to take the challenge of providing them food at their doorstep, going to the houses of the infected persons. We decided to provide food for their entire quarantine or treatment time of 14 days.
The next day, Good Quest identified the Sharon Foods restaurant that was getting closed. Mr Monish the owner, was planning to send all the workers from North East back home. We struck a deal with them – provide us 200 packets of food every day. We will provide the provisions. We agreed to pay them 2700 rupees daily We got our food ready and the restaurant and workers survived.
The digital posters were ready by the 22nd. On the 23rd, we got the first calls for help. We started hunting for the volunteers and in two days we registered 20 of them. On 24th, the volunteers were trained, in a session that started at 11 pm. Even before our formal kitchen started functioning, Mr Santosh, the director of Good Quest got some food prepared at his friend’s home to respond to a frantic call. We started formally with 30 persons on the 25th. In disaster management, speed matters a lot.
Utmost care was given to the sixty off volunteers to be safe. No one was to meet the patients at home. They were to leave the food outside the door and then call them by phone – the very meaning of ‘food at door step’. Volunteers were all given N95 masks, hand gloves, face shield and sanitisers. They were all given an identity card to deal with the police. I mentioned in my concluding words in the program with the volunteers that it was a miracle that while more than 60 of our volunteers were constantly in touch with hundreds of people during the lockdown while distributing food, not one was infected with COVID. It was the result of a careful plan as much as it was the protection of God. After all, they were doing His work of feeding the hungry.
In three days, the number of requests for food shot up to 246. Requests came pound in from other parts of Bangalore. Within four days, we opened the second kitchen at Chikabanuvara with Mr Tomy’s help. His newly made restaurant Anns’ Kitchen was lying vacant and came very handy with his staff and wonderful group of about 20 volunteers. He would cover the whole of North Bangalore. The third kitchen was in South Bangalore under the leadership of Pastor Benjamin. His ‘Cross Road Cafe’ with his five migrant staff was more than happy to cover more than 60 families. In a weeks time, we had delivered two more kitchens.
The fourth and fifth kitchens were very special. The kitchens at Jeevanbhimanagar in Indira Nagar and Sadaramangala in Whitefield were exclusively meant for the slum population, many of them in isolation and quarantine. With the lockdown extended regularly and with no work in sight, the slum population who lived on daily earnings were totally bankrupt. Ms Chitra who worked among them coordinated with us. We set up the kitchen right inside the slum and got the beneficiaries themselves to cook and provide. It worked perfectly well. We just provided the rations. Both kitchens together took care of more than 300 people daily.
Our sixth kitchen came up by the end of May in the Hennur road area near Kothanur. The Help Desk mission under the leadership of Mr Jaison reached out to the construction workers from North Karnataka through this Kitchen. Another restaurant in the ventilator called Cafe Samorian was given life by engaging it to provide food for over 350 people. It was very heartening for me to join the team to deliver the food to these families who had lost their job for more than a month. After distributions in five locations where the worker groups stayed, our lunch at 4 pm tasted so nice.
The seventh Kitchen was in Mysore. Having heard of the Bangalore kitchens, a group of volunteers from Mysore came forward to replicate our model. Just sharing our methods of work, they went on to serve food for about 200 persons. We named it as CoronaCare Mysore.
From the 14th of June, Karnataka brought in the relaxation to the lockdown. We continued to serve the food for about a weeks time after that, giving time for people to get back to their normal life and earnings. Our last food was served on 19th June, from the same kitchen that we started the service on the 25th of April.
We ensured the quality of food that was provided. It was a well-balanced food with rice, chappathi and curry, sometimes with salad and fruits. Egg was a daily part of the food. Sundays were made special with biriyani. It cost us an average of fifty rupees per food.
We used technology to its best. The food was literally just a phone call away for any Bangalorean. There was a google form for anyone to request food. We had a team of volunteers who were to counter check with the requests to verify their authenticity and get their locations. The location map was shared with the delivery volunteers who depended solely on it to find the houses. Facebook and Whatsapp spread the word about the availability of food. There was a report from every one of the kitchens by evening with all details. Vinod Kumar, the commander in chief of the operation, could verify the whole act on his mobile phone, including the timing of each food delivery.
Apart from the requests that came from the houses, our volunteers always carried some additional food packets, Any destitute person on the road were provided with the food. With empty roads and closed hotels and beggars unwelcome to the houses, our volunteers were waited for on the roads by such destitute people. Mr Tomy and team reached out also to the Ambulance drivers who waited endlessly at the crematorium on a regular basis.
We had committed lady volunteers with us. Ms Felsy and Ms Sushila and Ms Sarah would crisscross the city to reach food to the hungry on their scooties. They never refused a call for help. Sometimes they travelled as far as Electronics city from RT Nagar to deliver food on frantic request. Everyone was important. No one who approaches us would go hungry.
Sharing their experiences, the volunteers spoke about the feedback they got from the beneficiaries. “Can’t express how thankful I am for your kindness. It’s a blessing to have people like you all who are working day and night for the society who are in dire need now.” wrote one. Another one was, “From healthy to yummy, thanks for the food. I was really unable to cook due to my health. Helped me a lot. Your team is doing a great job. May God reward you.”
Volunteer Shaji was very expressive when he said that “when I gave good packet, the expression in the face was as though I was giving a packet of one lakh rupees. This is putting fire in the minds of the youth”. Major Thomas who joined us as a volunteer said that “this was the most satisfying thing I could do in the COVID times.” Fr Praveen who volunteered at the East Kitchen every day said, “When I do for them, it was for God.”
The same set of volunteers were involved with Project Pranavayu for the rest of the day, taking the 30 Oxygen Concentrators to the families of the patients. Many of them were also involved with the distribution of about 10,000 Survival Ration Kits to the most vulnerable groups, which included the tribal hamlets in MM Hills.
Disasters have become part of our life. Every community needs to build up its resilience to deal with it. The 60+ volunteers who were part of the food at the doorstep program were asked whether they were ready to volunteer in the event of any further disasters. Everyone was ready. Through this program, we have created a group of young committed volunteers who are available anywhere, anytime. A certificate signed by all CoronaCare Bengaluru agencies for each volunteer has sealed this commitment.