Chefs, raw material, LPG cylinders, equipment and even money-- restaurants across the country are chipping in with cooking and serving meals to daily wagers, migrant workers and slum dwellers rendered jobless as the country enters the second week of lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus.
Since most outlets are closed and food delivery services barely functional, restaurants that have staff, supplies and equipment are pooling resources to cook in community kitchens that have come up in the last few days.
“Even a team of 30 can cook for as many as 5,000 people, we are trying to leverage our capabilities to feed those in need,” said National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) president Anurag Katriar, who also owns deGustibus Hospitality.
Two days into the 21-day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers crowded state borders desperate to get home, left with no means to feed themselves and their families.
Though the government has come out with a relief package for the vulnerable sections, in the absence of a database, a large section of unorganised workers have been left out of the safety net.
Several religious, social and business groups have stepped in to help these people besides individuals who have been distributing food packets and dry ration.
“Since most restaurants have very small kitchens not ideal for cooking meals at this magnitude, we are using kitchens of caterers and transporting meals in refrigerated vans to designated zones where people need to be fed,” Katriar said.
The association has been working closely with the local administration and state governments to identify these areas, like slums or clusters where workers are stuck without any job. They are preparing at least 25,000 meals daily.
The food and beverage industry is not only facing a severe shortage of staff and delivery personnel, but raw material supply chains have also been disrupted. Restaurants are mostly relying on staff who stay close by and can walk to work. They have also held discussions with state transport corporations if they can lend them buses to get their staff and do the deliveries.
“We have used social media platforms like WhatsApp to communicate within our community of restaurateurs, while some have lent cooks, some have lent raw materials, some are lending gas cylinders,” Katriar said.
In Delhi-NCR they are serving around 15,000 meals, Mumbai 9,000, Kolkata around 3,500 and Bengaluru 5,000 meals a day, NRAI says. It plans to scale it up to 3 lakh meals daily within a week.
“We have put in some bit of money from our own pockets whatever we could, we have also reached out to those who can donate and help us get the initiative together,” said Katriar.
They would need Rs 20 crore a month and are trying crowdfunding, he said.