By Shubhra Pant/ Times of India
Gurugram, May 22: On April 21, when his phone’s notifications overflowed with frantic appeals for hospital beds, oxygen and medicines, Bajrang Jain received a call from a family in his housing society late in the night.
It was a request for food.
The family of four — a couple and their two children — had been struggling to put together proper meals. That night, they had not been able to make dinner. Husband and wife had Covid and were too sick to cook. “They asked if I could help them,” said Jain. “I woke my wife up. We cooked for them and left the food outside their house,” added Jain, who lives in Sector 104 and has an automotive parts factory.
The next day, Jain circulated a message on the society group, asking if anyone needed assistance with food. There were three more requests, which rose over the next few days as word spread and the pandemic affected more families in the vicinity.
Since the April 21 phone call, Jain said he has sent out around 250 meals — simple dal, sabzi, chapati and rice, which he and his wife made with the help of domestic staff. “It feels good to be able to help people in this time of need,” he told TOI.
Seeing entire families get affected by the pandemic has, over the past month and a half, led to several people like Jain volunteering to make and deliver home-cooked food to Covid-hit households in the city. In some cases, it stemmed from seeing the helplessness of a friend or family member who got infected. Others responded to calls for help because it gave them a sense of purpose amid the despondence.
Chhavi Lath (47), who runs a food outlet, was hundreds of miles away from her father when he tested positive for Covid. She felt powerless, an experience that, she says, made her want to reach out to those she could help. “My father lives in Varanasi. I couldn’t do much to help him from here,” said Lath, who took to cooking meals for Covid patients, especially senior citizens, in Gurugram.
“I started three weeks back. On busy days, I have served up to 50 meals. Now, I am making around 40. I try to make the food as nutritious as possible because it’s going to patients. It keeps me busy and hopeful in these grim times,” Lath told TOI.
Like Lath, meals from Kanika Arora’s kitchen, too, have been going to several households where families are unable to cook. Kanika’s meals comprise khichdi and porridge, food that’s easy to digest. “I saw many people volunteering to cook but I felt there weren’t enough healthy options. So, I began making porridge and khichdi,” said the hotelier, who had Covid too and has recovered. So far, Kanika added, she has delivered around 150 meals.
Samundeshwari, a city-based entrepreneur who is making South Indian meals for Covid patients, said nutrition is important, but so is taste because Covid patients suffer from a loss of appetite. “Many patients don’t feel like eating and tend to skip meals. We are trying to help them eat regularly by making the food tasty,” he said, adding he had opened a kitchen along with a friend in Sector 75 this Monday and got three people to help cook meals.
The deliveries are usually made using services like Swiggy and Uber. But fewer couriers are available because of the lockdown and the volunteers have sometimes also delivered food themselves. “It is risky, but sometimes one has to do it,” said Kanika.
The initiatives are all self-funded and donations from well-wishers and others willing to do their bit for Covid patients are helping sustain these kitchens. Samundeshwari says they started with a corpus but have been receiving calls from friends and family members who are keen to contribute as word has spread.
Jain has received donations from friends and his business network. “Some people send money while others give dry ration,” he said. Some patients also insist on paying for the meals. “There were a couple of families that wanted to pay. I asked them to contribute dry ration. So, in a way, they contributed for meals that were made for other Covid patients,” said Lath.