Kindness of strangers in the time of pandemic

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BY SUKANT DEEPAK
Chandigarh, April 11 (IANS)
Though it has just been been 10 days that Aakriti Sachdev from Panchkula started making food packets to be delivered to slum-dwellers, rickshaw pullers and daily wagers without work, word seems to have gone out.
Most mornings she wakes up to find packets of pulses and flour on her boundary wall. “At times, when I go out to answer the doorbell, there is dry ration or a carton of glucose biscuits. Some people, including strangers wait for me to say a quick hello, adding ‘this is from my side’, many just leave things,” says this freelance graphic designer.
Nirmal Verma, who has been running a tiffin service from her apartment in Sector-35 in Chandigarh for years now insists that it not a good time to talk. Her husband is waiting to deliver the the 200 odd tiffins she has prepared for people residing in colonies like Dadu Majra and Dhanas etc.
“I don’t claim to be a social worker. This used to be a business, but when the curfew was announced in Chandigarh , I realised that cooking was something I could do, so why not. I’ve earned from this small business, maybe it’s time to give back. As getting out was not possible, several police personnel would make the deliveries,” Verma said.
She says people have started coming forward and offered to contribute for flour, vegetables, pulses etc.
“I come from a simple middle-class background. People wanting to contribute are from the same. Some I have known for years, but there are many who are complete strangers. Many have said that they would want to continue doing this even after the lockdown is over. From my side, I have decided to continue distributing at least 25 tiffins free of charge to the needy,” she said.
A senior journalist, wishing not to be named, who conceived and manages ‘Coronavirus Relief’, a group that has around 80 active members from across professions, political affiliations and economic spectrum, and has mobilised Rs 10 lakhs by now for relief work in the Tricity (Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula) besides coordinating efforts in Haryana and Punjab, stresses that most of the donors are anonymous.
“Of course, for the initial lakh or so, we approached our friends and acquaintances, but the massive growth in the fund can be attributed to strangers,” he says.
The group accepts payments through ‘Our Democracy’ platform via PayPal. From activists to students, their volunteers deliver (they have two curfew passes) around 32 kilograms of ration (worth Rs 1400) to one family comprising flour, rice, pulses, soaps and sanitary pads.
“This quantity was decided upon so that we have to contact one family only once a month, and can concentrate our efforts on maximum people in need during this crisis.”
Stating that many a times he asks people to put their names with the contribution, so that others in their circles also feel a sense of duty, he adds: “I must say it has been an extraordinary response in these exceptional times.”
But it is not just with food that unnamed volunteers are associating themselves with. ‘Grey Shades’, a Tricity-based start-up which has fellowships for the elderly has also swung into action. Boasting of a pool of 400 volunteers, post the lockdown announcement, they decided to deliver food and medicines to elderly who were living alone in the region.
“We also engaged with the administration and allotted areas to volunteers. During the initial days, our helpline would get around 300 everyday. What is heartening is the fact that a lot of youngsters have been calling us to offer services to engage with the elderly,” says Inderpreet Singh, co-founder of the venture.
At a time when there is acute shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for medical workers, the NGO ‘Nanhi Jaan’, which in the last few years has donated ventilators and other equipment to government hospitals besides setting up a playroom the children’s ward at PGI in Chandigarh has now launched a ‘Care for Caregivers’ campaign so as help frontline workers in the Tricity and states of Haryana and Punjab.
Being run by Chandigarh-based Dr. Sandeep Chhatwal, who feels that the supply coming to hospitals is going to take some time to stream line and there is an urgent need for the community to step in.
“Not just people who have been associated with Nanhi Jaan for a long time, many first-time donors are coming forward with this cause. And yes, so many are donating anonymously. I have been flooded with people joining hands in this campaign. In fact, my alma matter St John’s School and the Old boys association SJOBA has joined in the campaign,” Chhatwal said.
In fact, Chandigarh’s Independent School Association (ISA) is ensuring supply of food packets to over 1000 needy people twice daily by opening a community kitchen at member school for the purpose. The kitchen has been operational in collaboration with UT Food & Supply Department.
H.S. Mamik, Chairman of Independent School Association, stresses that help has been pouring in from all quarters. “We may soon be able to cater to 1500 people daily,” he says.
Adding that these times were witnessing an unprecedented collaboration between NGOs, religious preachers and CSR departments of major companies in the region, Karkirat Singh, Vice-President of the NGO ‘Serve Humanity, Serve God’, which is active in the Tricity, and several parts of Punjab says, “There is absolutely no dearth of funds as people are themselves getting in touch with us, and this includes corporates. Many religious preachers have touched base to ask how they can help.”
The NGO, which, besides food has been distributing sanitisers to police personnel at nakas and rickshaw pullers across the region, and also masks for nurses at different government hospitals, is also witnessing a number of first-timers who are not only donating but also offering to volunteer. “This is a really positive development,” says Singh.

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