As they saw the scale of the disaster the nation faced, Australia’s Sikh community committed to staying as long as they were needed.
“We realised, we were not going home until this is over,” says Jaswinder Singh, acting secretary for Sikh Volunteers Australia.
Then their task was feeding hundreds of people displaced by the bushfires that ravaged Australia’s east coast in summer, and the emergency services who were helping them.
Many months later they’re still flat out, only now it’s dealing with the impact of the virus running rampant through Victoria – bringing food to people unable to provide meals for themselves.
The non-profit group, who started with just a handful of first generation migrant volunteers from the Sikh Community Gurmat Centre in Devon Meadows, has seen a sharp and significant increase in the number of people needing meals.
“At the peak of the first lockdown, we were making up to 1300 meals per day,” Singh says.
This is in comparison to 250 meals that were typically being prepared before the virus left many people unemployed and the immune-compromised unable to leave the safety of their homes.
“The restrictions have made it harder, like purchasing limited qualities of groceries. But our food service has continued,” Singh says.
The organisation has made changes to ensure they can continue to cater to the community’s most vulnerable throughout the enforced COVID-19 restrictions.
While they continue to operate their free food vans twice weekly at Tooradin, Frankston and Dandenong, in other more central areas they now offer a door drop service.
But these changes came with their own challenges, such as how to allocate a delivery address to someone who is homeless and non-contactable.
We had fear in our hearts that we wouldn’t be able to reach the community members who are homeless, living in the parks. These people don’t have a mobile phone or an address,” Singh says.
Working closely with agencies in those specific localities, Sikh Volunteers Australia has been able to ensure they remain connected to those who need their service.
When the Andrews Government announced the hard lockdown of the social housing towers on 4 July, Sikh Volunteers Australia sprang into action yet again.
En route to ease some distress of the Flemington residents affected by the tightly held restrictions, they were stopped by Victoria Police.
“It was like entering into a prison,” Singh says of the cordoned off area.
First, meals were distributed to those being brought down for testing.
“It was both satisfying and humbling to see that the residents knew there were people here to help them, to provide food for them,” Singh says.
“It was realised that not all residents could be tested in one day, so from the second day the food was being distributed to residents’ doorsteps with the help of Department of Health and Human Services officials.”
This assistance continued for the duration of the lockdown.
“If we have the resources, we have a moral responsibility to help without thinking about ourselves or our families. This is a Sikhism principle,” Singh says.
“If we can help, we must.”
To volunteer with the Sikh group, find details on their facebook page or website, www.sikhvolunteersaustralia.org.