By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Apr. 25: There is a saying that times of crisis show the true face of a society. Well, if that is true then the current COVID-19 crisis has shown that our society is compassionate and empathetic.
As Nepal goes through an unprecedented coronavirus-induced lockdown that is now in its fifth week, everyday people are rising up to ensure that the poor and underprivileged groups among them do not go hungry – everyday people like a group of youths from Sundar Tole, Jorpati.
Every day, from 10 to 12 in the morning and 5 to 7 in the evening, the group wraps packets of cooked rice, pulses and curry and distributes them to the queuing poor people near Baral Petrol Pump.
“With the lockdown imposed, many daily-wage earners and disadvantaged people lost their livelihoods. We saw people looking for food in the streets, even scavenging garbage to find something to eat. So, we couldn’t, in our right conscience, sit back and enjoy our lives while so many others suffered right in front of our eyes,” said local youth activist Sanjay Pariyar, a founding member of the group.
Pariyar, along with another local Biju Shahi, were the pioneers of this initiative that began from April 5. They were also aided in this endeavour by fellow Jorpati-resident Sonu Shah. But even though their intentions were noble, implementing them was a herculean task and the first few days were very tough.
“We had to manage everything on our own and pay for things out of our pockets for the first five days,” the trio said. “However, as more and more people became aware of our activity, they joined in and started contributing.”
It is now more than two weeks since the feeding drive began and, in that time, the group has grown to around 30 members. The number of people they are catering to on a daily basis has also increased from 10 people on the first day to more than 900 people now.
“We view this increase in number encouragingly and are happy to provide meals to as many needy folks as we can,” Shah said.
However, happiness does not manage logistics to feed nearly a 1000 individuals every day and that is where the community has
stepped in. Residents of the Tole regularly volunteer their time to
help the group prepare and hand out the food. They also donate the rice, pulses, salt, vegetables and other required materials.
Similarly, the local government has also extended a helping hand, issuing special passes to the group members to allow them to work and distribute the food publicly during the lockdown. It has also given them a thermo gun to measure the temperature of the people that gather to collect meals. “The local government and its representatives have been very positive towards us and are always receptive to our requests,” Shah said.
However, the contributions from the locals and help from the authorities still don’t fully cover the costs of this food distribution drive. The group informed that the cost of feeding one person roughly stood at around Rs 100, bringing their total cost of feeding 900 people to Rs. 90,000 per day.
Yet, despite the huge monetary cost, the group is determined to continue distributing free food till the end of the lockdown. Shah said,
“We are trying to raise funds from various sources and would greatly appreciate financial help, especially if the lockdown continues for a long time.”
Meanwhile, the free food distribution has really made a difference in the lives of the poor people of the area. One woman, who has been collecting food from the group for the past three days, said, “This food is the only thing preventing me from starving.” The woman, who did not want the society to label her as ‘destitute’ and hence concealed her identity, added, “The government aid cannot reach everyone. So, campaigns like this are very necessary to keep people’s lives intact.”
The group’s objective is to prevent anyone from going hungry and it called on everyone to feed the hungry people and animals around them.