As Sydneysiders grapple with the Omicron wave, Kogarah resident Ekta Sharma found herself in a 10-day isolation situation after she and her husband received positive PCR test results just after New Year’s Day.
The family of three found it hard to cope with the harsh symptoms of the virus (namely fever, runny nose, headaches, and diarrhoea) while also caring for their 6-year-old son.
With no time to buy groceries after testing positive, the Sharmas had no food or supplies at home. It was then that a friend of Ekta’s on a Kogarah community WhatsApp group ‘Sakhis’ pointed her in the direction of warm home-cooked relief.
“We could’ve [ordered] Swiggy or Ubereats but when a friend told me about a community service organisation providing home-cooked food, I quickly booked meals with them,” Ekta Sharma told Indian Link. “It was not just soul satisfying but also great for my child.”
It all started during the Sydney lockdown of 2021 when Manisha Shirodkar, a member of RAIN (Resourceful Australian Indian Network) who also managed Sakhis (a 256-member group), noticed that many Indian community members who were isolating were in dire need of a reliable source of nutritious food.
However, RAIN’s food collection point in Penshurst proved too far for some isolating households in the South Sydney suburb. As more messages poured in from other Kogarah residents who needed the tiffin service, Manisha Shirodkar requested a bulk delivery to the Kogarah India Bazaar.
“There were pregnant women whose families could not visit them, and people recovering from ailments who had babies to look after; they all required healthy home-cooked food,” Manisha said.
“At $8 per tiffin, it’s very cheap and more than enough food for one person. You get amazing ghar ka khaana and the proceeds go to support an NGO,” she added.
Madhu Aunty from the Kogarah India Bazaar was instrumental in helping the local community, Manisha shared. The former oversees daily operations at the well-known grocery store and was happy to clear her shelves to make room for RAIN’s food deliveries.
“When Ekta was impacted, my son picked up tiffins from the store and dropped them to her house. And when he got infected halfway through her isolation, another lady, Charanya from the group delivered to sick people’s doorsteps,” Manisha revealed. “The people in the group find ways to help each other.”
The initiative taken by the volunteer and mother of three has led to 25 families in Kogarah regularly receiving healthy home-cooked meals, and close to a 1000 tiffins being delivered to residents in isolation since September last year.
Members at RAIN Penshurst begin cooking at 7 am so that meals can be delivered or picked up before 11:30 am, well ahead of lunchtime.
“We have 7 staff and around 20 volunteers, some come in on a regular basis. We would love more volunteers but due to COVID social distancing guidelines we cannot afford to put anyone at risk; it’s a catch-22,” RAIN General Manager Parag Shah said.
“We are here to serve. We love to serve the community. Though we started this NGO in 2014 for seniors, through Manisha’s group many young mums and expectant mums have also been given much-needed relief,” Parag added.
Those in need of meals can place orders two days in advance by contacting Ritaben on 0422 897 665, Gitaben on 0450 150 808, or Parag on 0409 748 832.
The Sydney-based Heart of Love Foundation has also been providing COVID relief in the form of meals to sick families.
Sri and Naveen Yelamanchili started serving meals to the needy and homeless in 2019, under the Heart of Love Foundation. But COVID has added a whole new dimension to their agenda.
Volunteers now cook and deliver food boxes and provisions all across the city. Their message has gone out to the community via Facebook and WhatsApp groups.
Sri Yelamanchili told Indian Link, “Our food is vegetarian, sattvic and home-cooked. It’s usually dal, vegetable curries, maybe paneer, plenty of salads, rice and rotis, and sometimes fruit. We ask our volunteer cooks to use minimal oil, and not to include nuts.”
As an allied health professional himself, Naveen is very particular about the kind of food that must be sent out to those currently convalescing.
Some 60 families have been benefitting in the last few weeks. 43 volunteers are currently serving – either preparing the meals or delivering them, often taking on both responsibilities.
“The number of people offering to help is going up every day,” Sri revealed. “We express our thanks to all our volunteers, especially Savita, Pushpa, Ashok, Priya, Prathima, Heena, Mohana, Srinivas and Tejaswani.”
Yet an operation such as this requires more volunteers and so the call is out – contact Naveen on 0488 725 753 if you would like to help. Contact Sri on 0434 620 092 if you are in need.
“The aim of our free community service is to help provide food to COVID-infected people and abet their fast recovery,” Sri remarked, “But our underlying aim and goal is to utilise this service as a medium to express our love towards our fellow compatriots, and in that process to love ourselves.”
“While there are many forms of service towards mankind, we believe that food service nourishes the stomachs and hearts of both the people and the volunteers,” she added.
With Rajni Anand Luthra