coronavirus Society

A locked-down COVID-19 army: how civilians are pitching in to help those tested positive

Dr P A Mary Anitha with a child   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

“Everyone is looking for ways to help,” says Deepthi Tanikella, a Chennai-based entrepreneur who has been providing home cooked meals to isolating, COVID-positive people in her neighbourhood for the past month. “I came across an Instagram post by Harshini Sridhar, asking if anyone would be willing to cook for patients. I cook for my family everyday, all I needed to do was make some more,” she recalls.

Providing those fatigued by COVID-19 the comfort of a home-cooked meal was a chance Deepthi could not refuse: she is now part of a group of 12 people, spread across Virugambakkam, Alwarpet, ECR and other parts of the city, dispatching meals to patients who live in the area.

They are not alone; small groups of eager helpers have mushroomed across the country, following a similar modus operandi — reaching out to COVID patients isolating at home, listing them out by area, confirming meal requirements and assigning each household to a volunteer cook.

Some are small individual efforts, some are more organised groups like the Chennai-based ‘major-roof-4419’ portal on Glide, which helps patients search for food providers by PIN Code. Volunteers commit to a meal or two each — either on a day-to-day basis or for weeks at a stretch, depending on what the patient needs. They cook at home, pack it in disposable boxes and send it over at mealtimes, fresh from their kitchens.

Sharada Murthy packing food to be delivered

Sharada Murthy packing food to be delivered   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

But a will to help is not enough. Deepthi stresses on the need to be organised: “Stock up on aluminium foil containers or other disposables; you can’t ask a COVID-positive home to return utensils after every meal. Keep the food simple and include lots of protein if you can. Be clear about what time of day you can commit to. Your phone number will be shared, so be sure that you don’t mind,” she says.

Delivery personnel who ferry this food also deserve to know that they are being sent to a COVID-19 positive home, so that they can take precautions to protect themselves.

In Kochi, Reshma Johnson plays it safe by coordinating with the same delivery boy, who keeps it contact-less. The one-woman army started Reshma’s Kitchen over a year ago, and has been providing vegetarian meals to families affected with COVID-19 in and around Kakkanad since. Currently, she is providing food to 10 families in quarantine.

Often, those receiving food also receive a dose of comfort. Deepthi, for instance, has formed a special bond with an elderly man who lives away from his children. He eagerly awaits the handwritten notes she adds. She says, “he calls me another daughter”.

The grocery runners

Contactless delivery is something to be kept in mind across tasks. In Hyderabad, volunteer grocery shopper Ajay Roy asks people to leave their car windows rolled down. He drops their groceries in the car, and they pick it up once he leaves.

It is not just COVID-19 patients who need help with chores, but also the old and vulnerable. Rikit Shahi, for instance, says he is happy to pick up even just a single pack of juice for a neighbour, if he knows they are vulnerable and need it. He is offering his services to those who live in and around his locality, Khairatabad. Rikit began helping via a post on Twitter, offering to procure daily necessities for people, including medicines. Rikit says, “I double mask, use a sanitiser and maintain distance. A lot of people call with their daily requests, most of them are elderly people.”

Rikit Shahi on a grocery run

Rikit Shahi on a grocery run   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Ajay, who runs a homemade food business, began this just to make sure his elderly customers get their daily needs without hassle. He is helping families in quarantine with medicines and food, mostly in and around Sainikpuri and Yapral. He says, “Most of the families have been my customers who trusted my business and supported me. Now it is my time to support them and help them recover.”

Some are going a step ahead, entering homes of recently recovered COVID-19 patients to make sure affected families have a clean, comfortable environment. Over the past week, volunteers on Twitter have offered to tidy up rooms and water plants — fatigue being a major component, those isolating at home are grateful for the extra help.

Fur support

This time last year, when 24-year-old Ranjani Ramakrishnan decided to open her doors in Chennai for abandoned pets in collaboration with an animal shelter, little did she know she would greet a new furry friend every day. “I had so many animals coming and going at home,” she recalls fondly.

This time too, Ranjani is doing the same, albeit in Bengaluru where she works. “Pet parents find it difficult to take care of them or feed them when they are COVID-19 positive,” she says. As a result, many pets (especially vulnerable ones) might feel neglected and anxious leading to behavioural changes.

Like Ranjani, individuals across the country are now offering to board pets. “When I put up the post, a lot of people wanted to borrow the idea and do the same,” Ranjini continues. It is imperative to chat with the pet parent and know about the animal’s likes, dislikes and food habits before taking them in, says Ranjani.

Linda and Ram Prasad of Pet Paws

Linda and Ram Prasad of Pet Paws   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Some volunteers specify requirements, to make it easier to handle the stay. Bengaluru-based Shagun Ohri wrote that she can only take in pets who get along with other dogs (her pets). She wrote, “I will gladly manage two walks a day and follow whatever meal plan they are already on.” Soon after, “in a classic case of Murphy’s Law” as she puts it, Shagun and her family tested positive. But right now she is helping people remotely by sharing tips on what they can do with their pets if they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Linda Alexander of Pet Paws, Chennai, a home boarding facility, is currently housing about 20 pets from isolating families. For individuals who wish to foster pets, Linda has a few pointers: “A bath is absolutely necessary. The leash or collar should also be cleaned well.” She adds that fosters should also ask about the pet’s vaccination chart. Then adds, “They have to be taken for walks regularly. Find out two things: whether they are human friendly and pet friendly. If they are not human-friendly, it will be difficult to feed them.”

When a request arrives, Linda’s crew drives to the house donning a PPE suit and wielding sanitisers, and picks up the pet. Once the pet arrives, he/she is given a thorough bath — collars, leash et al — to avoid any possible transmission. Though there is no certified data stating that COVID-19 spreads through dogs or cats, sometimes people do show reluctance to take them in.

Pet Paws has been seeing a steady increase in the number of boarding requests ever since the pandemic began.

It takes a village

Raising a child is no mean feat, especially if said child is bereft of the stimulus of peers and playrooms. Which is why clinical psychologist Dr PA Mary Anitha, who distributes food and beverages to them through her network of volunteers in Kochi, has now turned her attention to children with special needs.

Anitha started the Centre For Empowerment and Enrichment in Kochi, for the care of people with disabilities in 2007 and has been in social service ever since. This time, Anitha is concentrating on COVID-19 affected families that have persons with disabilities in the house. She has a database of such families and is in constant touch with them, enquiring about their situation and needs. She also provides them with online counselling.

Read More | Good samaritan reaches out with food for the displaced during the lockdown in Kochi

“Children with special needs are especially vulnerable,” she says. Since last February, she has overseen care of high-risk children, with 88 volunteers whom she has trained.

Other needs need less medical know-how and more empathy. For instance, friends, neighbours and even strangers are offering up a day or two of their daily schedules to help children out with their homework, guide them through assignments, or just brainstorm concepts, as virtual step-ins for that all-important classroom back and forth many have been missing out on.

Guiding voices

The demand for counselling and emotional support is flooding in, not hospitals, but also from people sitting at home, beleaguered by the constant threat of the pandemic, and scale of tragedy unfolding.

“We have not seen such an unprecedented flood of calls for COVID-19 related queries since last April. We are getting nearly 100 calls a day,” says Chandan Achary, co-founder of Vizag Volunteers, a Visakhapatnam-based NGO.

Read More | Vizag Volunteers in PPE suits spread safety message in Visakhapatnam

What started as a WhatsApp group with his corporate circle friends and NGOs last year, has now swelled into a social movement. The group has 600 volunteers today, bringing together a gamut of information — from hospital bed availability to plasma donation — on vizagvolunteers.org. The volunteers have also managed to build a community that provides not just medical support but also mental strength to those in home quarantine through telecounselling.

The team of Vizag Volunteers in PPE suits to spread awareness on maintaining social distancing and wearing masks in public places

The team of Vizag Volunteers in PPE suits to spread awareness on maintaining social distancing and wearing masks in public places   | Photo Credit: DEEPAK KR

Comforting anxious COVID patients through telecounselling is one of the key areas they are addressing. while attending to a flood of calls enquiring about hospital beds that the organisation realised many patients were rushing to hospitals in a full-blown panic. “If the patient can be under home quarantine, we counsel them periodically through calls and guide them through the process,” says Chandan.

Groups like Vizag Volunteers are operating in many cities, and some across cities and states. Pooling in the spare hours and resources of data crunchers, fact checkers and just people who can spare the time to call and get updates from clinics, they are always in need of another helping hand, perhaps yours.


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 7:38:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/coronavirus-covid19-civilians-helping-patients-chennai-bengaluru-hyderabad-vizag-kochi/article34440788.ece

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