Australia

Australia's multicultural communities are feeding hundreds during the coronavirus shutdown

Diverse communities across Australia have been volunteering their time and resources to assist those struggling during the coronavirus crisis. Source: SBS

Diverse communities across Australia have been volunteering their time and resources to assist those struggling during the coronavirus crisis.

Behind the doors of a closed business in western Sydney is just one example of how the coronavirus crisis is bringing out the best in Australia's diverse communities. 

On a usually-bustling shopping strip in Lakemba, the large roller doors of Nargis Kebab and Chicken are firmly locked shut.

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From the outside, it appears abandoned, but inside there's flurry of activity. Every day for the past month, a small army of volunteers from Sydney's Bangladeshi community have been quietly working to feed hundreds of international students who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.

The volunteers have been working everyday for the past four weeks.
The volunteers have been working everyday for the past four weeks.

"There are 12 volunteers working with us every single day, and they are cooking fresh food and packaging it," volunteer Noman Shamin told SBS. 

The restaurant, like so many, has been forced to temporarily close as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Rather than let the space go to waste, the owner has allowed the team to use his kitchen to cook up to 200 meals a day.

Head chef Chomon Rahmn, who lost his own job, has been working for nearly 30 days straight. 

The restaurant, like so many, has been forced to temporarily close as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
The restaurant, like so many, has been forced to temporarily close as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
SBS

Mr Rahmn said all of the ingredients are donated by the local community.

"I love cooking," he told SBS.  

"I cook a different meal everyday, chicken biryani, chicken curry, and rice, vegetable, eggs." 

Nirmaloya Talukder, a lawyer, drops in most days to help package and distribute the food. 

"This is the time to show the greatness of being Australian," he said.

Lending an ear

When the pandemic hit, the Hindu Council of Australia set up a national hotline to assist those in crisis.

Sai Paravastu, the council's director of community services, told SBS the hotline designed to help all Australians who are struggling, both financially and mentally.

"We set up a line and we are pretty much doing the whole country, across every territory and state," he said. 

The Council rely on food donations from local communities.
The Council rely on food donations from local communities.
SBS

The large-scale, national response offers a broad range of services, including the delivery of basic grocery supplies to families and students in need. 

"We make 40-50 kits on average per day, but on a weekend we might make 60-80," operation leader Jaykumar Sadananda said.

More than 2,000 kits have been distributed across the country since the beginning of April. Mr Paravastu says that's roughly 55,000 individual meals.

Each day local delivery truck drivers, who are also volunteers, are deployed to various locations in capital cities including Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. 

"When we deliver, they literally are in tears and they say that, if you had not come today we would not have had a meal today," Mr Sadananda said. 

Those in regional areas, including Townsville, Cairns, Newcastle, Wollongong and Armidale, receive their grocery bags via the post. 

The hotline also offers medical services for those unable to afford a GP visit. 

Brain Surgeon Dr Prashanth Rao is among a string of doctors who have been volunteering their expertise. 

"We want to support the community in terms of physical and mental well-being," he told SBS. 

The team of volunteers have distributed around 1,000 grocery packages since the beginning of March.
The team of volunteers have distributed around 1,000 grocery packages since the beginning of March.
SBS

"[We] write scripts, offer flu shots if they cant afford them. We are also conducting yoga classes on a regular basis on zoom, and other activities such as baking classes, craft so that we are all keeping ourselves occupied." 

Psychologists have been conducting counselling sessions over Zoom and other virtual platforms. 

Volunteer Rahul Jethi said those with investment properties have also been putting up their hands to help by providing accommodation for people who can no longer afford their rent. 

He says they've housed up to a dozen people so far, including struggling single mothers. 

"Developers said 'we have properties that are vacant, and you can use them'." 

Family-led response

Each Saturday Sydney biomedical engineer Rashid Sheikh and his family have been waking at 6am to cook up to 40 meals for international students who have lost their jobs and are ineligible for government benefits.

Each Saturday, the Sheikh family cook and distribute up to 40 meals.
Each Saturday, the Sheikh family cook and distribute up to 40 meals.
SBS

"These university students, how are they going to pay their rent? At least I can provide a free lunch on a Saturday," he said.

Rashid, his wife, and two sons have been distributing the meals for the past six weeks, and they don't plan on stopping until the pandemic is over.

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

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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