During lockdown, these community kitchens are the saviours of the needy
On March 25, at his daily evening briefing, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that nobody should go hungry in the state.
The announcement had happened exactly 22 hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the country will be put under lockdown for 21 days to contain the Coronavirus spread.
Even though food shops were exempted from lockdown, on the ground suspension of transport services restricted many from either buying or cooking food.
The chief minister had said that during the lockdown, the poor should not suffer or starve.
“The government had directed the local bodies to take care of the daily needs of the poor, destitute and people living on the streets, and provide them food through community kitchens,” the chief minister had said.
Heeding the chief minister’s words, Manoj SS and his friends took up the challenge and expanded their People’s Hotel – run at EK Nayanar Charitable Trust office near Medical College in Thiruvananthapuram – where lunch was served for Rs 20, into a Community Kitchen with the help of Kudumbashree, a women-only neighbourhood group.
Since then, Manoj and his team arrive at the Trust office at around 4:30 am itself. And when Manoj and his team arrive, the Kudumbashree members are already present there.
It is a joint effort. While Kudumbashree members start the food preparation, Manoj and his team take care of the packing.
By 7:30 am, breakfast for some 250 needy people is ready to be loaded in a van and sent out. Some without a break and some with a short break to have breakfast, the lunch preparation begins.
If the breakfast packet numbers are only 250, lunch packet numbers are around 650. And they have to be sent out for distribution by 11:30 am itself. Hundreds of dinner packets await next.
“We don’t want anyone to go to bed with hunger pangs in our surroundings,” Manoj said.
“Based on the lists compiled by local bodies, free food packets are being given to the deserving ones. Others can purchase the food packets by shelling out Rs 20 with an additional Rs 5 as delivery charges, in case the packets need to be delivered,” Manoj added.
Currently, there are more than 1000 community kitchens functioning in the state providing food to around five lakh needy people.
Talking to The Lede, Dr KR Shyju, Thiruvananthapuram Kudumbashree District Mission Coordinator, said that community kitchens are set up as part of the COVID-19 fight.
“In Thiruvananthapuram, we at Kudumbashree had made some 2.5 lakh masks and 15,000 bottles of sanitisers and distributed them to the needy. Community kitchens were also started as part of the COVID-19 fight. In the district, we have started community kitchens in all 73 panchayats,” Shyju said.
According to Shyju, Kudumbashree units have been given Rs 50,000 as a start-up fund for the initiative, and foodstuff is bought with that money.
“I visited 22 community kitchens personally. They all are functioning well. This community kitchen is providing 650 lunches daily on an average. In all 83 community kitchens are feeding the needy,” Shyju added.
Free food packets prepared in EK Nayanar Trust Community Kitchen are mainly distributed to patients and their relatives who have come to the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College and Regional Cancer Centre.
The community kitchen is situated just opposite the Medical College.
SS Sindhu, Thiruvananthapuram Corporation Member and Welfare Committee Chairperson said that due to the lockdown, many patients and their relatives are stranded in and around this area.
“We are providing food for them three times. 35 youngsters are volunteering here. We are covering three wards. And these youngsters and leaders mainly Shyju, Anil and Kartikeyan are doing a great job,” Sindhu added.
Meanwhile the government is planning to start an exclusive community kitchen for migrant workers too.
The first one would be started in Perumbavoor, the town where the largest number of the migrant population in Kerala are living.
As per the plan, the first such community kitchen will be opened at the Bengali colony at Perumbavoor where around 3000 migrant workers reside.
The decision to set up the exclusive migrant community kitchens was taken in the wake of the Payippad incident in which hundreds of migrant workers marched on the street last week demanding transportation back to their native places and their desired food.
According to VS Sunilkumar, minister for agriculture, the kitchens will be operated under the guidance of Kudumbashree and it has been decided to deploy some migrant workers so that they can make the food to satisfy their taste buds.
The state has reported a total of 327 positive cases as on April 06.