Kohima: From dawn to dusk, nearly 100 volunteers in Kohima are regularly engaged in catering food to over 1,600 returnees who are in the institutional quarantine centres, through a COVID-19 community kitchen called “Bethel Kitchen”. An initiative of the Kohima District Task Force (DTF) and supported by the Kohima Baptist Pastors’ Fellowship (KBPF), the community kitchen has been smoothly functioning like a “mini factory” since June 3.
Limanenla, ADC at the Commissioner’s office and convener of the Bethel Kitchen, told EastMojo that with the increase in the number of returnees to the district and the shortage of food caterers, the idea of running a COVID-19 Bethel Kitchen was proposed during a DTF meeting.
“Initially, food was being catered by five catering parties and with the increase in the number of returnees, there was a need for more catering parties. But out of the five, three pulled out and later the others also expressed their reluctance to continue catering [food to the quarantine centres],” the officer said. Although some caterers were willing to provide their services, she said that the localities in which they reside did not allow them—forcing them to stop their services.
As an alternative option to deliver to food to the quarantine centres, the Kohima district Task Force began the community kitchen with the support of the KBPF. “We could not have started it if there was no support from the Kohima Baptist Pastors’ Fellowship. They came forward assuring us of the manpower which emboldened us to start this. True to their words, they have been providing manpower everyday because of which we are able to run this kitchen daily,” she said.
A six member committee was also set up to look after the overall affairs of the Bethel Kitchen, headed by the ADC, Limanenla. Since June 3, the work-force has been gathering at the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) hall to cater to thousands of people who are in the quarantine centres, including the caregivers. “It is like running a small factory,” she expressed on the work distribution among the volunteers—from cleaning the rice to packing and delivering.
On a rotational basis, between 80-100 volunteers are engaged in the food catering process beginning from 4 am in the moning till 8 pm in the evening. With the community kitchen in place, she said that food is now regularly delivered to the quarantine centres on time thrice a day — 6:30 am for breakfast, 12 noon for lunch and 6 pm for dinner. On Thursday, 1,640 people in the quarantine centres were served.
While the food may not be up to the expectation of those people in quarantine, she said: “We try our best to give a balanced food. Usually, we provide vegetarian for lunch and non-vegetarian for dinner. We also make sure that the food reaches them in time”.
“Everyone who is working here, including me — we eat whatever is prepared for those in the quarantine centres. We do not have anything extra for ourselves,” the officer said. Even after the dinner packs are delivered to the quarantine centres, the work is not over for those in the kitchen as all volunteers are responsible to ensure that the place remains clean and tidy, keeping it as fresh and ever-ready for the next batch of volunteers to begin their works.
The officer said that while the rice is provided by the department of food and civil supplies, the community kitchen received a lot of support and donations from the civil societies, individuals, and religious organizations including those from the Hindu and Muslim community. She said that some government employees are requisitioned to assist in the functioning of the kitchen and 12 police personnel are stationed permanently.
“It is a very challenging job to prepare food for more than 1500 people in a day and that too regular basis,” she expressed. With over 80% of youths who are involved in the catering services, she said that is overwhelming to see the young people volunteering themselves.
While negative comments circulating on the internet affects those working tirelessly for the people, she admitted that there were times when such messages “broke all of us” despite the hard-work that the committee members and the volunteers were putting into.
She boldly added “There may be lapses. But we, the committee members decided that we will not be let down by the criticisms and will focus on our work. At the end of the day, it is either we swim or sink together. With the churches behind us, we are emboldened”.