Chennai flexes its volunteering muscles once again to keep the Michaung-hit fed

Classrooms become kitchens, homemakers become chefs: massive efforts are under way to keep the Michaung-hit fed and in good spirits

Published - December 11, 2023 10:04 pm IST

Volunteers of DSW Trust at Ram Nagar in Madipakkam

Volunteers of DSW Trust at Ram Nagar in Madipakkam

The car parking area at Aram IAS Academy at Second Avenue in Anna Nagar West has been recast in the image of a community kitchen.

The food prepared in this makeshift kitchen goes to hundreds of families rendered temporarily homeless by cyclone Michaung. Two classrooms are used for cutting vegetables and storing groceries. Seva Bharathi volunteers are making this happen and they are ably supported by at least 20 students preparing for the competitive exam.

As Chennai hobbles back to normality, it clearly needs as many hands on the deck as it can get. People representing a cross-section of society are pitching in. They are taking cooked food to doorsteps.

For some of the volunteer groups, a sense of deju vu is inescapable. They played a similar role in the 2015 floods and Vardhah, and even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Differently-abled students and their parents cleared the school premises of DSW Trust in Keelkatalai of water so that it could serve as a kitchen and a food distribution centre. Impressed with their commitment, neighbours joined in.

Ganesh Letchumanan, founder of DSW Trust, says it is empathy of this kind that makes relief work heart-warming.

“We had residents of Vasantham Apartments in Madipakkam send us packed food that we distributed with the help of our volunteers. Similarly, a biriyani shop owner lent us his vessels that we carried for storing packets of pulihodara,” he says.

Staff and volunteers attached to The Danirasa Kitchen at Thirunindravur, run by Danirasa Foundation, started their day at 3 a.m. on December 7. Thanks to the generosity of various corporates including BigBasket that sent them tonnes of vegetables and ID Fresh Food that sent them batter, a variety of items like pulav, aval uppamav and pongal were prepared to feed more than 7000 people.

Volunteer groups say technology has made crisis management of this kind easier.

RA Puram resident Ritu Saundattikar Pujar is two years old in the city. She is not familiar with the demographics of the city nor the local language but has time on hand and loves cooking, so since December 5 she has been preparing meals to serve 70 people, divided between lunch and dinner.

“I posted this on my Instagram page cupshupandmore and word just spread. I have a few NGOs who are more than happy to pick packets of home-cooked food from my place,” says Ritu, who was also active serving food during the pandemic.

Through its Facebook page, non profit Thuvakkam, which has been cooking food from its community kitchen at Patel Park in Kundrathur, reached out to volunteers to help with cooking and food distribution.

Similarly, the Besant Memorial Animal Dispensary (BMAD) team had a post on Instagram announcing that it is accepting donations in kind for distribution to flood-affected areas.

More than 3,000 volunteers of Seva Bharathi have fanned across Chennai for relief and rescue work. Once the organisers realised the urgent needs of residents in and around Triplicane had been met, they closed the temporary kitchen at Ethugiri Mutt East Tank Square Street.

“We had a good number of them trained in disaster relief,” says V. Nirmal Kumar, general secretary, Seva Bharathi.

During the 2015 floods, he says, the group did not make note of the amount of food distributed or the number of people calling for help. “Now, every detail is fed into an Excel sheet,” he says, rattling off the numbers of boats employed for rescue and the number of food packets distributed. “Every day, we have a call to take stock of the relief work and what to focus on the next day.” He says all this has helped them be more organised.

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