In order to understand, contain, and delay the spread of the highly infectious novel Coronavirus, the UK has been in various stages of lockdown since March 23rd of this year. This lockdown and its ensuing restrictions have led to issues like non-availability of food supplies and their limited transportation putting thousands of residents at risk of suffering from hunger, lack of nutrition, and consequently poor immunity levels. These people include ones who fall in the vulnerable categories due to their age, lack of employment & monetary support, and shelter. This also includes the huge number of NHS staff members and law enforcement workers who have been working round the clock to ensure that health facilities, care, and support are available to those infected by the virus.
To meet this challenge the Sikh Temples or Gurdwaras have stepped up to help people with food supplies. In fact, as soon as this pandemic reached the UK, the members of these temples proactively arranged themselves into volunteer groups to initiate these large scale-feeding operations and to support the government authorities as much as possible.
Gurdwaras, due to their ‘langar’ practice, which is a community kitchen that serves a free meal to all its visitors, are places that are able to quickly produce large quantities of food. These kitchens function 24/7 run by a large number of volunteers keeping in line with Sikhism ethos of serving humanity and filling the stomach of people who are needy but cannot fend for themselves. These kitchens feed virtually everyone who shows up at a Gurdwara anywhere in the world.
While the communal worship remains stalled, the Gurdwaras and their kitchens have been converted into emergency food operation centres, which serve as a focal point for food relief operations. Every day thousands of meal packets are prepared at the Gurdwaras that comprise of dry fruits, curries, rice, eggs, and packaged water. These packets also contain burritos and other dry snacks, though with a hint of in Indian style cooking, to suit the palate of the locals.
Depending on the location and situation, the food supplies also include basic medi-supplies like over-the-counter medicines, powdered milk, canned food, flour, etc. Not only this, but the volunteer groups are also purchasing and supplying other grocery items for the people who cannot access or afford them. These supplies are then either sent to common areas for distribution or in places where the recipients are in self-isolation or quarantine, door to door deliveries are also made by the Sikh volunteers. The majority of recipients include local police stations, hospitals, shelters for homeless people and children, etc.
Wearing face protection equipment and gloves after sanitising the surroundings and food preparation areas, these volunteers have been cooking meals tirelessly in huge batches to meet the huge demand. It is absolutely amazing to see the infectious energy and zeal of the ever-smiling and courteous volunteers, divided across all the age groups,who only aim to serve people at such a critical time. The only time that a volunteer takes a breather is when she/he is handing over the charge to the next volunteer in line.
Some Gurdwaras have also opened up hotline numbers and have been receiving a request on their websites for people to directly request for food assistance. This global ‘langar’ service in the UK is in line with similar efforts underway simultaneously in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, etc. where Gurdwaras are serving and supporting people constantly in this hour of urgency. This selfless effort of these volunteers can easily set an example for anybody who wishes to support the underserved.
These frontline feeding heroes have yet again underscored the fact that it only takes a strong will and a sense of duty to step up in times likes these.