Food warriors

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CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ

Pinky Goyal

Like most people scanning the horrifying news coming in daily from across India and in the state itself, Pinky Goyal was troubled and left feeling helpless by the heart-wrenching stories. 

However, as she began coming across stories of people who were helping out in their own little way, she too began to think of ways by which she could also be of help.

“I have always loved to feed people and so I immediately decided that I will help people by providing home-made, fresh meals to COVID patients and those who cannot afford it because of the pandemic and lockdown,” says Goyal who is originally from Jaipur but has been living in Goa since 2018, and is currently working with the community media organisation, Video Volunteers.

Goyal got together with her friend Shreya M and the duo put out a poster online announcing that free meals would be provided to people in as many locations as possible to reach. Calls began immediately.

“Since I am a working professional, I cook meals for people in my spare time before my office hours,” says Goyal. Currently fresh, vegetarian meals are supplied to those in need in Siolim, Anjuna, Arpora, Calangute, Porvorim and even Margao through another volunteer who is preparing these.

“We are getting more than 12 food parcels delivered in a day with the help of several volunteers from different parts of Goa. Many of them are working and contributing in their spare time,” says Goyal, adding that adequate precautions are taken in the entire process – from cleaning vegetables, to cooking in hygienic condition, to ensuring volunteers use masks, sanitisers and gloves while delivering. They also ensure zero-contact delivery.

And help has also been pouring in for these volunteers. “Someone sent us 10 kilograms of rice and five kilograms of lentils. Another person extended help by buying us groceries and vegetables, which would last more than a week. Through such genuine support we have been able to reach people in need,” says Goyal, adding that the initiative has also connected them to some beautiful souls. 

“Shreya and I are trying our best to reach out to as many people as we can who are really in need of this support. Food is a basic necessity and it breaks our heart to see people die of hunger, when many of us do not even blink our eyes even once before we waste so much food on a daily basis,” says Goyal, adding that in doing this yeoman service it has also personally helped her to deal with this lockdown and pandemic alone at home as she feels very content and satisfied to be a part of someone’s journey through these difficult times.

“I strongly feel that this is one such time which will teach us how important it is for each one of us to realise oneness of self and environment. We all depend on each other as human beings. This is what makes us a community. And for any community to survive, we need each person to support another,” she says. “I hope we all realise our potential as individuals and we all can muster up our courage to do our best for society.”

The Parra Coffee Club

In Parra, The Parra Coffee Club, a Slipdisc enterprise has been supplying free, nutritious, cooked food to COVID-19 positive Parra residents since April 26 and aims to continue to do this till May 15.

“The motivation to provide this service came from my own experience when my wife tested positive last year. Luckily, she had a mild infection and recovered quickly at home itself. But seeing the plight of the people in my village, as well as some close friends and family members who are infected, I felt I must help them,” says CEO of Slipdisc Outdoor Advertising, Keith Fernandes. Given that he already had a café and his employees from Slipdisc who happily volunteered their time, Fernandes decided that he was well-placed to provide food. “The Parra Coffee Club offers mostly nutritious vegetarian food. We have many dishes on the menu and it’s a different dish every day of the week so people don’t get bored! We have soya bean biryani, dal and jeera rice, veg pulao, with sides of raitas, pickles and boiled egg,” he says, adding that so far they are delivering to almost 100 people.

“Some people in the village — who are not infected, but nevertheless need help with food as it’s dangerous for them to get out — also requested our help,” he says.

And they have received handwritten letters of appreciation. Some people have also made donations of money. 

The only way to handle stress in these times especially, says Fernandes, is to stay positive, but it is easier said than done. “This is why I started the free food initiative. It provided me a positive outlet for my stress,” he says. “You can sit and worry about COVID and its ill effects on the world around us and it will only make you more anxious. Or, you can take some action, however small. Do what you can to help people who are affected.” 

Saligao Stories

Anisha Hassan who runs the restaurant Saligao Stories from her mother’s 150-year-old ancestral home, has also begun offering simple, nutritious food free of cost to people in Saligao, Sangolda, Parra, Mapusa, Calangute and Porvorim as of now. “We started this to deliver food to families affected by COVID and also to frontline workers who are exhausted to cook,” says Hassan, adding that they have received calls from families where the parents are ill and there is no one to cook for the children, elderly couples both down or recovering from the virus, and many selfless volunteers who are on the road giving kits and doing deliveries. “We are taking all the necessary precautions when we deliver, to start with we are not in contact with anyone as we ask them to leave a chair outside so we can leave the food on it. We follow all SOPs while cooking and delivering the food,” she says, adding that the help she has received from volunteers, fellow restauranteurs and even random people has been amazing.

“COVID has definitely been a levelling factor in human relationships and brought together people from all walks of life to come together and fight it,” she says. “It’s extremely heart-breaking to hear and see the stories of helplessness and anxiety that our fellow Goans are facing and if we as an organisation can give back and help them even a little, we consider ourselves fortunate! This is my way of giving back to my mother’s land and her people who are now mine.”

Potluck 

The Ramadan fasting has not stopped the team behind Potluck from supplying food to those in need. “We’ve been able to serve more than 300 meals so far, most of which have been to COVID positive senior citizens, house help, or to children whose parents are hospitalised,” says Sameera Khan, whose mother Saira has been cooking these meals despite fasting herself, while Adil, a relative, has been delivering the food to each and every home. They are ably supported by their family and friends like Nazia, Kunal, Utkarsh, Salman, Roohi and Chait. Currently they provide meals to areas of Panaji, Bambolim, Dona Paula, Miramar, St Inez and Taleigao at a nominal cost or when necessary free of cost.

“There is fear, we think about it every day. We take all precautions to avoid any contact with people. We deliver in bags that are kept at the doorstep, money is received via online transfer, we wear double mask/N95 masks and gloves while going out for delivery. Everything is sanitised multiple times,” says Sameera, adding that they are continuously receiving messages of gratitude from people. “Being able to take care of senior citizens who are COVID positive and without family around is what drives Saira personally. We hope that these small steps make a big impact on someone’s life,” she says, while cautioning everybody to take care. “It’s heart-breaking to hear these stories and read about the cases every day. Everything is a number until it happens to your loved ones. Don’t let it get to that, stay home.”

Tousif De Navelim

Meanwhile, Tousif Shaikh, known more popularly on the tiatr stage as Tousif De Navelim, has been helping people in whatever way he can since the pandemic began last year by supplying groceries and food, and distributing these to daily wage labourers who were on the road without food and water. In this he was helped by his parents and friends, who cooked daily for over 1000 people.

“My dad late Nasir Shaikh, who passed away in December is my inspiration. He taught us to give food to the needy,” says Tousif.

This year, since April 7, he and his team have begun providing food to hospitals in the South for COVID patients. “I began providing this food after getting calls from many patients saying that there was no proper food in the hospital,” he says, their meals consist of rice, fish curry, vegetable, a boiled egg and one banana. For vegetarians, they provide rice, dal, vegetables and banana. As they cannot enter the hospitals, relatives pick up the food from their vehicle. 

“We also provide food for home isolated people and if we get a call from any corner in South Goa, we deliver,” he says. All the cooking, he admits, does take a lot of time, and often goes well into the night, as late as 3 a.m. Alongside this they are also fasting owing to it being the Ramzan month. But all the good wishes and blessing from people keeps them going.  “A lady from USA, Moffy Rebello, also called me up and offered a huge amount,” says a grateful Tousif who is aided by his neighbours Kadar, Wasim, Mustaq, Ismael, Saheel and Asif along with his brothers and mother and relative Rehan Mujawar.

Sarah Andrade

Sarah Andrade who lives in Davorlim has also begun providing free food to those in need. “This is a global pandemic and we are all in it, and so I began thinking about I can do to help others. As I love to cook, this is me doing my bit by providing meals,” she says. Vegetarian meals with fruit are provided to areas of Margao, Navelim and surrounding areas, with adequate safety precautions followed. “Many people have extended their help, thoughts and resources to me,” she says. “Many people have told me since ‘I believe there is God’.”