The last few weeks have been overwhelming. As the vicious second wave of coronavirus sweeps across the nation, there is no end to the horror stories of people struggling and suffering. But in these moments of adversity, there are some acts of kindness and compassion that have helped lift the gloom and doom of Covid-19. In such extraordinary times, humanitarian response is needed to heal the scars of the pandemic and Dr Tapas Panda and his wife Rajashree Panda have done just that, going the extra mile to lend a helping hand to those suffering. The couple has started a free kitchen service for Covid patients in home isolation and their families in Bhubaneswar. Riding his bike, 50-year-old Tapas covers the length and breadth of the State Capital, distributing food packets to families bearing the brunt of the ongoing crisis.
On an average, he travels more than 100 km and caters to around 60 families on a daily basis. And the number of beneficiaries is rising with each day as the pandemic tightens its grip on the city. “When I started the initiative 15 days back, there were only a handful of infected families who sought my help. Now, I provide food to more than 60 families every day. The households that I serve have several members, the maximum being 11 and the lowest 4, all in home isolation. There are single persons too who need my assistance,” informed Tapas. An associate professor in the Centre for Agri-Management of Utkal University’s MBA department, Tapas is a native of Nayagarh district who currently resides at Nandan Vihar in Patia.
Since classes in the university have been suspended due to the pandemic, he is devoting his entire time to reach out to those in distress. Supporting him in the initiative are his wife Rajashree, viceprincipal of a play school, and 11-year-old daughter Tapasya, a student of Class V. “I am only a postman delivering food packets but taking all the credit. In reality, she is the one doing all the work. She has to cook four times a day to prepare food for such a large number of people. My daughter is the packaging in-charge as she packs the food in boxes.” The food packets contain rice, chapattis, fried veggies, dal and a curry. Tapas said he provides extra servings of chapatis and rice in a packet so that people don’t stay hungry in the night.
What made him start the free kitchen service? Tapas said, “Two of my friends went into depression after getting infected by the deadly strain of Covid- 19 in the second wave. Despite being well-educated, they were gripped with the fear of death and became so hopeless that they stopped taking food. On seeing their condition, I decided to deliver food at their doorsteps. Subsequently, they recovered but I realised that hundreds of infected persons might be having similar thoughts. I decided to extend my food delivery service to other Covid patients and their families too.” In order to reach out to more people, he shared a post on Facebook providing his contact number and details of his service.
“My students helped me make the post viral. I knew food was an essential need for infected persons staying away from their families. But I was not aware of the severity of the situation. A few regional media houses did stories on my initiative following which calls for help started increasing. The demand swelled after Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan tweeted about me. Now, most of the families I serve food have their kids working overseas,” he said.
Tapas and his wife get up at 3 in the morning every day to ensure that the food is prepared in time and the packets delivered by lunchtime. The packaging is done by 8.30 am after which Tapas rides out to deliver the packets. Now, he is assisted by five volunteers who help him deliver the food across the city. Many people have come forward to provide financial help but Tapas feels it is his responsibility to give it back to the society which helped him during his time of need. “Throughout my life, I have been working for cause-related initiatives. There were many people who helped us when we needed it the most. We are paying it forward by helping those in need. It’s as simple as that,” he informed.
Rajashree echoes her husband’s views. She said, “Cooking for around 2,500 persons daily is no doubt a tough job but I don’t complain. Both of us went through difficult times, but there were people who came to our rescue during our crisis. Now it is our chance to do good for others.” Tapas said it is disturbing to see deaths in families and the pain of losing a loved one.
“I feel helpless of not being able to do anything. Every day, we read about the suffering and agony of Covid patients and the rising number of deaths. This only creates panic and anxiety among people. Due to misconceptions associated with coronavirus, some people think they are going to die. The fear of Covid has become worse than the disease itself. The need of the hour is to counsel those under isolation for the fears they harbor about Covid-19,” he added.