In addition to government efforts, acts of kindness from strangers and neighbourhood communities is helping the most vulnerable in Kerala cope with the lockdown.

news Human Interest Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 16:17

With a nationwide lockdown in place for 21 days, many remain in the security of their homes; however, this is a privilege few cannot afford. Ever since the third coronavirus case (the Italian national who stayed in Varkala) was confirmed in Thiruvananthapuram, the streets of the city, especially the Thampanoor area where the railway station and bus stand are located, wear a deserted look. However, there are many street dwellers who live in and around Thampanoor and East Fort area of the city.

Over the last two days, in a heartening sight, two people with masks and gloves, distribute food to the people who live on the street. All of them were shifted to Putharikandam Maidan, a ground in Kizhakkekotta by the police.

"Two days ago, when we reached Thampanoor, the sight was heartbreaking: we saw a few of them tired and not even able to get up since  they did not get food for several days. Almost all of them are too old and live with different ailments," says Sanal Robert, who distributed food on behalf of the organisation Pallikkoru Kai.

"We buy 'Freedom' food, prepared by the jail inmates, to give to the people on the streets. We have discussed with the police department and we will distribute the food in the coming days," Sanal says. The organisation has also distributed blankets to the people sleeping on the footpath. Mollywood actor Manu Varma is a patron of the NGO.

On Wednesday and Tuesday, Thampanoor police also distributed food to street dwellers at night.

During the Kerala floods, hundreds came forward to lend a helping hand to others. But this time, people have been asked to stay home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

This is also why people began hoarding items, worried about their potential non-availability. A group in Mukkam, Kozhikode, however, have packed 1,000 boxes with essential groceries and biscuits to distribute to the needy.

The group call themselves Friends of PM Naushad, a street vendor from Kochi who was lauded by many as he donated his entire stock to those in relief camps during the Kerala floods in 2018 and 2019. He had donated all the clothes stocked by him too.

"The box contains two types of raw rice to make kanji as well as boiled rice, some pulses, masalas, biscuits, oil etc. We have published our phone numbers so that people who need the packet can contact us and we will deliver it at their house immediately," Majid Pulikkal, a government school teacher, who is also associated with the group, tells TNM.

"We make sure that our brothers and sisters are not starving during the coronavirus outbreak. We have taken permission from the police department and we will continue these donations, obeying all the protocol of the Kerala government," Majid says. "People are hoarding things since the lockdown was announced. But we should think about people who cannot afford it," he adds.

Another act of kindness is from Kumarakom in Kottayam district where an auto driver, Ajayan, home delivers essential items to people for free. People can call him or send him a list and he will get them home delivered, they just have to pay the bill amount. "Yesterday, I delivered to 17 homes. People can just ring me up and give me a list, I will get them from the shop they wanted and deliver it. They are ready to pay me diesel charges, but I do this as my duty. Anyway, I will not be able to work till the lockdown is removed. So I have decided to serve those who are in need," he says.

He adds that aged people who are living alone and families with small children find his service very helpful. Ajayan was also given an identity card by the police department so that he can go out to buy things.

Meanwhile, the Kerala government kickstarted its first community kitchen at the Thycaud Model Lower Primary school. The Chief Minister announced that these kitchens would soon be established across Kerala so that people in need can contact them and food will be delivered home.

"People will be hesitant to seek food from others. The government will establish community kitchens so that those who need food can contact a phone number and they will get food," Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in a press meet held on Wednesday.

Ward councillors have also been directed by the government to make sure that aged people living alone are provided with food on time.