COVID-19 Kitchens: When 33-year-old Anukriti Khare fell prey to her acute anxiety over the morbid turn of events taking place in the country due to COVID-19, she had to think of a way to make herself useful. The number of COVID-19 cases in India had never been so high and social media platforms were flooded with SOS messages.
Anukriti knew what she could do to help people in need. She thought of the time she tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020 and had craved food cooked by her mother. “I would ask for simple things like salt on a roti,” she said. It has been 25 days since Anukriti started her COVID-19 kitchen where she prepares meals for coronavirus positive patients.
At first, she thought of spending her own money to run the COVID-19 kitchen but right after people on her social media got to know about her initiative, donations started to come her way. Anukriti said, “Honestly, I didn’t have to spend anything.” While some people helped with cash, others helped with procuring groceries. And so much that she is thinking of dropping some of the items at Gurudwaras.
Currently, Anukriti tends to 30 COVID-19 patients in Gurgaon every day by proving them with lunch and dinner. Even though Anukriti has a full-time job to manage with the kitchen, she is grateful for the support of her house help Raju Bhaiya, her boyfriend Abhinay Chakravarthy and friend Indu and Krithika.
Her little sister Anupriya Khare also took up the initiative and started to cover the south Delhi area from her home on the Indra Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) campus. Together with the help of her parents and families on the campus, Anupriya is able to send lunch and dinner to 45 people on a daily basis. The sisters have collaborated with two delivery partners in both Gurgaon and South Delhi who take the prepared meals to houses of COVID-19 positive patients.
Rachna Jain, a boutique owner in Noida, started her ‘Sewa’ COVID-19 kitchen on April 24. She has two kitchens running in Noida’s sector 120 and 62 which belong to her friends in the tiffin service. Rachna is privileged enough to be able to pay the kitchen staff and both the delivery executives with her own money. In a day, she is able to send over 40 meals for lunch and dinner each.
“Sometimes people are not able to finish the food I send for lunch so I ask them every day if they need dinner also,” Rachna said. This way she ensures that the food doesn’t get wasted and someone else benefits from it.
The Safety Aspect:
Both Anukriti and Rachna have made sure that their delivery partners are safe and always wearing protective gear. Rachna said that her delivery persons only drop the meals at patients’ doorsteps and sometimes they leave the package with security guards if the patients are living in gated societies. The security guards make sure that the package reaches its recipient.
Anurkriti said, “I and my boyfriend make sure that only one of us goes out to give the packages to delivery partners and then that person does proper hand washing and sanitising after come back inside.”
Requirements Vs Demands
” I don’t cater to demands and only fulfil dietary requirements, ” Anukriti said, explaining her limitations. If a COVID-19 patient has kidney problems, she makes sure to not send them dishes like Chole and Rajma, if a family practices Jain customs Anukriti makes sure their meals don’t have onion or garlic, but when someone asks her to make her special Paneer Bhurji, that is something she finds difficult to do.
” I have more than 30 meals prepared already, I can’t change things up for one person, ” she said. What infuriated her the most when a woman called her asking for five meals when there was just one COVID-19 positive person (the woman’s mother) in her house. “She said their maid didn’t come. Some people are so entitled and privileged, they don’t understand that there are people who actually need that food,” And that is when Anukriti told the woman to cook herself.
Both Rachna and Anukriti make sure that the food they make for patients is balanced in nutrients, spices and is not very oily.
How to say no?
While Rachna has enough staff members to take on extra orders most days, Anukriti finds it difficult to manage. There have been times when she could send additional food packages because it gets difficult to say no.
Anukriti said, ” There are times when you are really maxed-out and can’t take more orders. Later when I started getting overbooked, I started sending lists with other home kitchens‘ numbers to patients. I also made sure to check with them later if they got food delivered or not.”
For anyone willing to start their own COVID-19 kitchen for patients, Anukriti’s tip is to, “Take as much as you can and don’t overwork yourself.”
One doesn’t always go out helping people in search of a reward. The blessings received from patients after they eat the home-cooked meal is the only reward these women get and they are grateful for it. Sometimes Anukriti and Rachna have felt overwhelmed with the number of requests, donations and kind words.
The work these women do is also emotionally taxing. But the satisfaction of helping out those in need gives them the strength to keep going. While one can only hope that the pandemic comes to an end quickly, it is women like these who make us believe in the fact that we have it in us to tide through this calamity together. One act of kindness at a time.