A group of students from Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta, Presidency University and Calcutta University are using their money to feed footpath dwellers of College Street.
The students have launched an initiative called “North Calcutta Kitchen” to feed the footpath people, many of whom earn their living as mutiyas (men who ferry goods) in Mechhua Phalpatti and the Sealdah station area. Some also do odd jobs for bookstall owners and publishers.
All these day labourers have been jobless since the Centre announced the lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Manmatha Ray, an ISI student, said the kitchen had been set up in a club in Ultadanga and food packets (rice, dal and a mishmash of vegetables) were being sent to College Street in the afternoon.
“We are taking care of footpath dwellers in the College Street area through our kitchen just like students of Jadavpur University are doing for the poor in south Calcutta through their community kitchen,” Ray said.
The students of ISI, Presidency and Calcutta University are procuring essential items from the districts through their network.
Presidency students from Hooghly district have sent rice and potatoes collected from residents of their areas, Sayan Chakrabarty, a postgraduate economics student of the university, said.
Students spread across villages in the district have so far procured 1.5 tonnes of rice and potatoes, the student said. “We are getting vegetables from the JU community kitchen… they get their stock from farmers in Bhangar, South 24-Parganas. In return we have been sending the farmers surplus rice and potatoes collected from Hooghly.”
Metro had on April 18 reported about the community kitchen run by Jadavpur University students and that they had set up a cooperative with farmers in Bhangar with the help of a Presidency student who lives there to get their unsold vegetables in exchange for rice and pulses.
“If they don’t get adequate food their immunity levels will drop… they will die of starvation before any virus can kill them,” Chakrabarty said.
In the Ultadanga kitchen, students prepare the lunch by themselves. They have reached out to their alumni for donations to keep the initiative running.
Once the food is ready it is packed and the packets sent in a car to the Calcutta University gate. Footpath dwellers queue up to collect the packets from volunteers.
The students have engaged some youngsters from among the food recipients to help maintain the queue during distribution. “Azmira, Feeroz and Akash live on the footpath and do odd jobs for a living. We have engaged them to ensure people maintain physical distance while collecting the packets,” Ray said.
Poor people living on footpaths in the Shyambazar area and along Vivekananda Road receive food packets as well.