Soul food, for the unsung ‘Covid Warriors’ in Coimbatore
The commissioner directly witnessed his work and joined the service one day to extend his support to Naveen’s noble gesture.
COIMBATORE: Two large scoops of freshly prepared ragi upma, peppered with colourful bite-sized veggies, with a side of piping-hot medhu vadai, sambar and two varieties of chutney – all served on a stainless steel thali – and oh, don’t forget the boiled egg to top it all. Hungry much? This ain’t no breakfast platter you could order from a restaurant, but rather a wholesome meal served to around 50 sanitation workers in ward 5 of Coimbatore city east zone.
35-year-old G Naveen Kumar, the councillor of Vilankurichi, is a people’s representative in the most literal sense as he has devoted himself to feeding those engaged in sanitation work. Naveen’s initiative took shape a few months ago, from his realisation of how these workers have been relentlessly slogging since the break of dawn for years, with no recognition, let alone proper food.
These workers who are assigned work by the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC) always turn up for work every day as early as 7 in the morning, mostly with an empty stomach. There are more than 5,000 sanitation workers attached to the civic body, and it was Naveen’s conscious decision to provide nutritious and delicious food to these workers who were once hailed as ‘Covid Warriors’.
Through this initiative, Naveen has filled more hearts with joy and gratitude than the stomachs he feeds every week on Wednesday – sanitary workers from the ward, and several thousand others, including officials and sanitary workers from neighbouring wards.
The free morning breakfast initiative provided by Naveen has been benefitting all sanitary workers in the ward, including DBC workers, sanitary inspectors, supervisors, dump truck drivers, and others. Currently, he provides free breakfast every Wednesday, lunch once a month and a non-vegetarian feast once in two months.
Naveen tells TNIE that it hurts to see the ‘Covid warriors’ go about their work early in the morning on an empty stomach. “They even have to collect leftover food waste and other waste thrown out by irresponsible people, while their own stomachs are empty. It is this thought that led to my decision to provide them with food using my own money. I believe that if their stomachs are full, so would their hearts. Moreover, after a good meal, they can work with renewed energy,” says Naveen.
Although councillors of local bodies don’t get paid by the government, Naveen has been spending money from his own pocket to provide food for the sanitary workers and officials in his ward. His noble gesture has not only made him the a favorite among the workers but also a true representative of the people.
Naveen also revealed that he has been spending around Rs 4,500 to Rs 5,000 for the food he provides to around 50 people in his ward every week, adding that his aim is to provide free food throughout the week to the workers, but is unable to do so due to financial constraints.
He further says that his intention is not just to provide free food for the sake of it, but provide the workers with a healthy and nutritious meal. “Millet pongal, ragi semiya, wheat upma, idly, vadai and eggs are some of the most frequent items on the breakfast menu. My personal suggestion to the Tamil Nadu government is that it must come forward to provide free breakfast to all sanitary workers across the state, at least once a week. As of now, I’ve been urging residents in my area to provide these workers with free food during special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries. To my delight, many have accepted my request,” Naveen says.
Naveen who has been nourishing his own self through feeding others with love, kindness and compassion, has received appreciation from the CCMC Commissioner M Prathap and Mayor Kalpana Anadakumar. The commissioner directly witnessed his work and joined the service one day to extend his support to Naveen’s noble gesture.
P Rathinam (50), a sanitary worker from ward 5, tells TNIE that he has worked in all 100 wards of the corporation over the past 18 years. “This is the first time we are being served with not just free, but healthy and delicious food by a councillor. Naveen has been taking very good care of us ever since he took charge. Each one of us has been provided with a stainless steel plate to have the food we are served. He has also given us clothes, sweets, crackers, and even money during Deepavali,” he adds.
Another worker, A Ramkumar (39) says that sanitary workers from other wards have been jealous of them. “The way Naveen has been taking care of us has made many people envious. Many workers wish to come work in our ward. Even if the officials shift or get a transfer, we go and fight with them to cancel it. We simply love working under a good human being,” he adds.
Recently, the national secretary of INC and state vice president of the youth wing requested other CCMC councillors to follow Naveen’s footsteps by providing free food to the sanitary workers in their respective wards once a week. However, not a single councillor accepted the request.Naveen and his heroes have so gracefully put Vilankurichi on the ‘humanitarian’ map!
“They even have to collect leftover food waste and other waste thrown out by irresponsible people, while their own stomachs are empty. It is this thought that led me to provide the ‘Covid Warriors’ with food using my own money,” says G Naveen Kumar