Sharing in the time of coronavirus

By Indira Laisram

Food and sharing have become one and the same, specially more so, during the pandemic. When Jasvinder Sidhu, founder of Let’s Feed, got a call from Wyndham Council social workers and also from Wyndham Park asking if there were possibilities of using silverbeets in his food projects, he lapped up the offer.

For one thing, the leafy vegetable is healthy food and when Sidhu experimented with making saag (popular leafy vegetable Indian dish) out of it, the result was good. “From there on, they started sending 20 bags of silver beet on regular basis and that is used to cook saag in gurudwaras.”

The silverbeets are grown in the parterre gardens of the Werribee Mansion, and during COVID-19 have been donated to community groups who are preparing meals to feed the needy.

“The silver beet project will be on for another three months, so we are utilising and feeding homeless people,” says an excited Sidhu, whose organisation has been at the forefront of looking after the homeless and the poor for the past 10 years.

The work of Sidhu and his Let’s Feed team at the nearby Tarneit Sikh Temple has come in for a lot of praise from chief ranger James Brincat, whose team of gardeners work with volunteers to maintain the public gardens in good shape. With the silverbeet project a success, Bincat hopes to make vegetable plantation an annual feature.

The silverbeet project has sparked such enthusiasm that Parks Victoria (that manages the 10 hectares of formal gardens including the parterre and the Victorian State Rose Garden) now wants to set up an ongoing partnership with Let’s Feed, says Sidhu. “They want to work on a project of setting up community gardens for the various communities. This means people can plant their own vegetables, encourage fitness and a healthy lifestyle and in turn the community can help in planting trees and volunteering.”

For Sidhu, who is also a political activist and university lecturer, and one of the founding members of the Forum for International Students set up during this crisis, feeding people has been the most rewarding of his endeavours.

Although he formally started Let’s Feed in 2013, he has been working towards addressing the problem of hunger for the past ten years and has been credited with setting up the concept of breakfast clubs which has now become a part of the Labor government’s School Breakfast Clubs program.

In his own telling, “We wanted to give langar (a communal free kitchen in Sikh tradition) to people in need. That’s how it all began. So we initially started with breakfast clubs for students in need in public schools and also tied up with many organisations such as Asylum Seeker Source Centre, Uniting Church, St Mary’s House of Welcome in the city that provides breakfast and look after homeless people, and so on. In 2014, I told Premier Daniel Andrews that I have created this project and asked him to see it, which he did. He visited a school where the project was running and, thus, incorporated my idea by creating a Schools Breakfast Club policy.”

Today, the delivery of the School Breakfast Clubs Program is an essential service for many students and families.

Let’s Feed, Sidhu estimates, has fed over 300,000 breakfast meals over the past seven years and raised more than 50 tonnes of food and distributed, few thousand items of clothing and 1000 blankets over the years.

Sidhu founded Let’s Feed to “spread the message of Sikhism and Guru Nanak’s principle of langar”. But the remarkable thing is that Sidhu realised the food gap and worked towards filling that gap in services.

He explains thus: “For instance, Centrelink provides assistance to families who are in need and public housing provides assistance to people who need support but within that there is a gap. The gap is that sometimes the children go to school without food because the parents have spent the money on drugs or alcohol or gambling. I found the gap and created breakfast clubs.”

Sidhu says his work is informed by the fact that he can stay at the helm coordinating and creating projects. “Fortunately, we find a lot of volunteers who are ready with their time. I stay at the central coordinating position so that way by not spending too much time I am able to do a lot of work.”

Seen in one light, COVID-19 called for a lot of action. “We started cooking few months ago. So, Let’s Feed and United Sikhs started working together. Working with Wyndham Park I coordinate the whole program, I collect requests from people, I also collect information about people wanting to donate.”

Currently, they provide about 300-400 meals and grocery packs to people in need in Wyndham. “We also provide assistance to international students and to people who have lost their homes and are in temporary accommodation. During COVID-19, family violence has increased and a number of times police had to remove women from their household. So, we provide the food to them in their motels.”

For now, though, Sidhu is happy that the donations are coming to carry on with his projects. “The Indian community likes to donate. Sometimes they don’t want to donate to the temples and gurudwaras, so we don’t find it really hard to raise money and donations both.”

The business seems configurable. The good will is in plenty. Here is hoping Sidhu keeps expanding his delivery footprint to those truly in need.

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