For nearly 60 days, Jeevan Kumar has been cooking/distributing food and essentials for those who’ve been severely hit by the COVID-19 lockdown in Hyderabad, with the help of his business partners, well wishers and a small team. “So far we must have cooked and served meals for 2.5 lakh people,” he says with a hint of pride and satisfaction, before he begins distributing essentials on a new day.
Now that the lockdown measures have been relaxed, the demand for food and essentials have declined and Jeevan’s team is distributing the remaining stock of groceries to those who still need them.
Jeevan is chef and co-owner of Charcoal BBQ in Madhapur, and an actor who has featured in Telugu films Saaho, Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi, Falaknuma Das and Meeku Maathrame Cheptha, among others.
Each night Charcoal BBQ closed operations, he and his team would feed stray dogs in the vicinity with the leftover food.
Business was brisk until the COVID-19 lockdown. Jeevan never imagined that one day he would have a small team just to cook for daily wagers, migrant workers and anyone in need of food.
Jeevan recalls, “Soon after restaurants were ordered to close down, we had a lot of meat and cooked food. As usual we were feeding street dogs near the restaurant when we noticed that people too needed food.” That left him shaken.
The next day, he learnt that hostels in Madhapur were shut and those chefs were looking for work. He hired a few of them. As he saw the plight of daily wagers owing to lockdown, Jeevan felt he had to do something. He and his business partners dug into their savings to help.
Cooking began at the restaurant and at the kitchens of some of the hostels nearby. Tamarind rice, vegetable biryani and curd rice were made in bulk.
During the first distribution drives, 400 food packets were picked up within 10 minutes and nearly 3000 people were catered to in the first week. Soon, word got around and requests poured in from areas near Madhapur, Kukatpally and Gachibowli.
Jeevan sought the help of Gachibowli police commissionerate. “I was worried that one of us might get infected with COVID-19. We took police help to know which localities need help and to ensure social distancing,” he says.
Financial help also came in from the film fraternity. Director Tharun Bhascker, actors Sushanth, Nandu, Anasuya Bharadwaj, Hari Teja, singer Geeta Madhuri and others came forward to sponsor food and essentials.
The distribution drive got bigger with each passing day. “We started distributing kits with five kilograms of rice, one kilogram each of pulses, oil and salt. We fed street dogs wherever we went. Supermarkets would alert us when they got fresh stock of dog food,” says Jeevan.
Requests also came in from farmers who wanted to sell their produce that couldn’t be transported easily due to lockdown measures. In the first batch, 5000 kilograms of fresh vegetables were purchased, followed by more orders in the following weeks. “Once, when 10000 kilograms of vegetables arrived, we got permission to use the Ramanaidu Hall at Film Chamber building to segregate and pack the vegetables into kits for distribution,” says Jeevan.
Looking back, Jeevan is glad he and his team could help people during the lockdown.