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‘Duty to serve’: Sikh volunteers serve free food after public housing towers face lockdown in Melbourne

Sikh volunteers out to serve food to lockdown-affected communities in Melbourne. Source: Supplied

Members of Sikh Volunteers Australia are joining community groups by serving hundreds of free meals to the residents of public housing estates facing lockdown in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne.

Up to 3,000 residents of nine public housing estates in Melbourne have been put in “hard lockdown” amid concerns of increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in Victoria.


Key highlights:

  • Residents of nine public housing estates forced into lockdown in Melbourne
  • Sikh volunteers serve free meals outside the public housing estates
  • They aim to serve residents until the lockdown is lifted from the public housing

After hearing this announcement, the members of Melbourne-based Sikh Volunteers Australia decided to serve free meals at the public housing towers near Flemington.

Manpreet Singh, a representative of this non-profit organization said that a team of at least 12 volunteers is busy preparing meals for people who desperately need their help.  

“It is our duty to serve our people when they need us the most. We understand that these estates provide housing to many vulnerable residents in Melbourne,” said Mr Singh.

“We are located just outside these four tall buildings. We are inside the Police barricades, but we are not allowed to go inside the building. So basically, we are providing food takeaway containers to the residents who come out for COVID-19 testing.”  

A Sikh volunteer serving free meals at a public housing estate near Flemington on Sunday night.
A Sikh volunteer serving free meals at a public housing estate near Flemington on Sunday night.
Supplied

Mr Singh said the volunteers didn't face any problems in setting up their free food table at the venue.

“The police were very co-operative and understating. The chief of staff had some initial discussions with our volunteers before giving us an approval to set our camp there,” he said.

“With everyone’s help and support, we were able to serve 1,325 meals at the venue yesterday. We served rice with soyabean curry and mushroom-peas in takeaway containers.” 
Sikh volunteers food van served free meals to the residents of public housing towers near Flemington.
Sikh volunteers food van served free meals to the residents of public housing towers near Flemington.
Supplied
Mr Singh said the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) officials were ‘thankful’ to their team members who were delivering free food.

“We’ll keep serving until it’s needed. We are supplying at least 1,000 meals during lunch today and will provide about the same number for dinner tonight,” he said.

“There is nothing special about it. Our volunteers have always been passionate about ‘Nishkam Sewa’ which essentially means selfless service to humanity without the need for recognition or honour.”

Sikh volunteers Australia aims to serve free meals (prepared as Langar*) until the lockdown is lifted from the public housing. 

A team of Sikh volunteers preparing meals at a community kitchen in Melbourne's south-east.
A team of Sikh volunteers preparing meals at a community kitchen in Melbourne's south-east.
Supplied

On Sunday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that this measure was taken as part of an extension to the suburban lockdowns in place in Melbourne's coronavirus hotspots. 

"We have sufficient evidence to take these steps. They're not taken lightly," he said.

The residents of these estates were forbidden to leave for any reason, but food and other supplies would be delivered to them, the premier had said.

Meanwhile, the government has partnered with several organisations to assist with this massive logistical exercise, such as the North Melbourne Community Centre, Fareshare, the Community Grocer, Coles, and the Victorian Trades Hall. 

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews
AAP

In a media statement, the government informed that last night 500 packs of essential supplies and over 3,000 meals were delivered to residents.

“We know this is tough on our public housing residents and that’s why we’re doing everything we can to provide support – whether that’s food, mental health support or just help paying the bills,” said the premier.  

The state which is now battling with a surge in the coronavirus cases reported 108 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, Victoria's second-highest daily total.

Click on the audio player above to hear an interview with Manpreet Singh from Sikh Volunteers Australia.

* Langar: Sikh gurdwaras (place of worship) all around Australia give free food to anyone every day all year round.

Residents in affected public housing towers who need access to support and assistance should call the Housing Call Centre on 1800 961 054. If you need a translator, first call 131 450. Both services are 24/7. More information can be found here.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. 

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus 

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