Kochi: Community kitchens set up in Kerala to cater to the weaker sections with the aim of ensuring no one goes hungry during COVID-19 lockdown have ramped up their operations and are distributing 2.5 lakh to 2.8 lakh food packets every day, the state government said on Friday. A huge portion of the food packets was being given free of cost to the weaker sections, including migrant labourers, homeless people and the destitute rehabilitated under the Ashraya integrated project, National Health Mission (Arogya Keralam) said.
Each pack of lunch comprises rice, two dishes and a pickle and delivered for those making advance booking. The community kitchens are also preparing breakfast and supper. While dosa/idli with sambar will be available in the mornings, it is chappati and curry (vegetable) during nights. These are not served free and cost between Rs. 20 and Rs. 30.
The kitchens, being run by the local self-governing bodies in association with the states poverty-alleviating Kudumbashree project involving women, have been functioning for the past fortnight, adopting social distancing and other safety measures, Arogya Keralam said in a release.
Till Friday afternoon, community kitchens have cooked and distributed a whopping 33 lakh food packets, it said. The government took the initiative as a mission to ensure that the vulnerable sections, left jobless due to the lockdown, get food till the lockdown is relaxed. While announcing the initiative on March 25, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said,
Every panchayat (Kerala has 941 in total) will have a phone number to which calls can be made to avail the food from the nearest community kitchen. None should go hungry.
Cooperative societies and voluntary organisations also form part of the all-Kerala mission, whose army of volunteers called “Arogya Sena” (Health Army), work as members of local WhatsApp groups through which they share information regarding the needy persons. The members also deliver food.
The first set of such kitchens began functioning on March26, a day after CM Vijayan announced the plan to provide free food packets for the needy at their doorsteps. The other sections of the public, too, can get the food by paying a nominal Rs. 20 per packet plus Rs. 5 for delivery.
With civic bodies directly responsible in the management of the community kitchens, the groceries are being provided by the state civil supplies department. Maintaining social distancing, essential to avert any spread of the deadly coronavirus, the volunteers are busy with their daily service at such cookhouses that total 1,255 across the states 14 districts. Of these, 179 function under municipal corporations.
Rising to the occasion, Kudumbashree has also separately serving budget meals through its “Janakeeya” hotels (peoples’ restaurants). Today, 238 of them are serving the people. S Harikishore, Director of the Kudumbashree, which has been granted Rs. 23.64 crore for the mission says,
Going by the budget allocation for the current fiscal, we had anyway plans to open such eating joints serving meals for Rs. 25. Owing to the lockdown, we have brought the price down to Rs. 20.
Authorities ensure that the community work no way upsets the implementation of social distancing, which is essential to check spread of coronavirus. The cooking personnel and those assisting them maintain the requisite gap while working. Extra care was being taken to guard against any transmission of the virus, officials said. The districts with most number of community kitchens are Ernakulam, Malappuram, Palakkad, Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur.