CHENNAI: Oru pidi anbu (A handful of love). That is all they've ever craved for to feel accepted, embraced and supported. Perhaps that is why it rightly fits as a tagline for the Trans Community Kitchen.
Thanks to four young crusaders Srijith, Aruvi, Anish, and Sharan Karthik the Trans Community Kitchen came into force to help people stranded on the road without access to free or affordable food in adverse times, especially during the Sunday lockdown that was imposed from April 25.
The kitchen runs on the labour of 12 trans women, who after always being the ones to receive help, now know what it is to give.
Community comes first
"Since the first lockdown that came into effect last year, a bunch of us have been collecting and pooling in funds to support the members of the LGBT community. It was during one such time when I stumbled upon a few pavement dwellers who were massively hit because of the lockdown and its repercussions. They were struggling for even a glass of water. It dawned on me then that the last thing humans should die of is hunger. With a few like-minded friends and dedicated trans women, we kicked off this community kitchen on April 25 with a trial run," says Srijith.
The team of 12 includes Shankari, Priya Ezhumalai, Bobby, Sowmiya, Sowndharya Gopi, Rupakala Vedachalam, Ramya, Mageshwari Elumalai, Preethi Ganapathi, Sandhiya and Maya. Six of them work at the Porur kitchen and the others at Tsunami Quarters, Eranvur.
"I have known all of them for a long time. They are all service-minded and have contributed their bit for society at different points in time. What brought them together was their eaggerness to give their love to those who needed it the most, with a skill they have mastered over the years cooking," narrates Srijith.
The team has been functioning with permission from the police and by adhering to hygiene protocols. The cooking preparations take place at their community kitchen in both locations. "Our work begins at 4.30 am and we wind up by 9 pm. The team takes turns to deliver food in the morning, noon and night. We’ve given them our scooters so they cover a larger distance in less time. Upon returning, they take a shower, wear a fresh set of protective gear and only then prepare the next meal," he says.
A collective effort
The menu for the first week was rava khichdi for breakfast, vegetable biryani for lunch and roti with sabji for dinner. All the meals include a water bottle. From the Porur kitchen, food was distributed to around 50-70 people in Porur, Iyyappanthangal, Kattupakkam, Poonamallee, Karayanchavadi, and Kumananchavadi. From Tsunami quarters, the meals were served to around 80 women with disabilities and transgender persons inside the settlement.
"At Porur, we have a bigger kitchen, so we were able to reach more people such as the homeless/street-occupying elders, destitute women, migrant workers, sanitation workers, those stranded on the roads due to the lockdown, ambulance drivers, and policemen on duty," he says.
Similarly, on May 2, the team served thinai pongal for breakfast, sambar rice for lunch, bun with jam and biscuits for dinner. Only this time, they managed to cook for around 400 people per meal.
Besides food, the team also distributes provision and masks. Sharing her experience, Shankari says, "The same set of people, whom we served the previous week, were waiting for us with hopeful eyes. I felt so proud and content. They grabbed the parcel from me and blessed me. What more do I need? By serving food, we not only satiate their hunger but give them confidence to live."
For a bigger cause
While some lost their jobs and some others were denied equal opportunities at work owing to their identity. Despite their unsteady income, exclusion by society and battered hopes, here they are trying to help those who are suffering a similar fate.
"We know what it’s like to be deprived of something so nobody better than us can empathise with these needy people. This is our community and we need to do something for it whether or not it pays back. If only we all learned to accept and coexist; life would be much better," says Soundarya.
The team is planning to offer non-veg biryani on Ramzan. "It so happened that we offered only vegetarian options so far. We would love for them to enjoy some meaty affair. Given the extension of lockdown, we will be functioning until May 24. All three meals will be prepared on all days at Porur and weekends at Tsunami Quarters. We will be delivering food to more people for which more funds will be needed. It would be helpful if more people can assist us," says Srijith.
The team is grateful to the few good Samaritans who’ve been pitching in funds to keep this initiative going. "We are currently functioning like a disaster management team. All our contributors have been helping us for the last one year based on trust. We are transparent about what’s being done with the money by sending an acknowledgement receipt. This way, we've also been able to build a network of good souls. We hope to help more people in the coming days," says Aruvi. Here’s to tribes such as their’s for keeping serving morsels of relief.
(To contribute, mail: transcommunitykitchen@ gmail.com)