Words: Amrita Hapuarachchi
Due to the economic crisis and high cost of living, many low-income families are finding it difficult to have a single meal let alone three balanced meals. This has given rise to community kitchens initiated by Sri Lankans around the island. According to Moses Akash De Silva, Head of Voice Community Kitchen, “Nearly 5 million Sri Lankans are currently in need of food assistance. Latest surveys reveal that 86% of households are using at least one coping mechanism such as reducing food intake and skipping meals. The cost of food inflation is 60% +...” Voice Community Kitchens are currently functioning in nine areas across Sri Lanka, providing 1300+ meals a day.
It is not just underprivileged households that need assistance during this economic crisis. Community Meal Share, run by Nadeeka Jayasinghe, her partner Gyan Weerakone and friend Fazeena Rajabdeen started this recently to assist with schools, hospitals and those in fuel queues.
Inspired by Community Meal Share, Tina Edward Gunawardhana, along with two friends through their charity Singitha Sarana established in 2001 to educate financially disadvantaged children started the Nugegoda Children’s Meal Club. They initiated the first meal for 178 students at Revatha Vidyalaya and Wijerama Vidyalaya and this went viral on the Nugegoda Then and Now Facebook page. Tina explains “For years we were working with children in Kantale and other rural areas but when we saw our children going hungry on our doorstep in Nugegoda we felt that as a community we had to step up and help those that needed it most.”
Cricketing hero Roshan Mahanama has also thrown his weight behind these projects. He is involved not only in Community Meal Share but also the distribution of dry rations around the country. He says, “To engage in social activities, it is not just money.
It is time, energy, and sharing of knowledge and your network to help someone. So it is not a difficult thing for anyone to indulge in this.”
He adds, “Sri Lanka was within the first 5 countries in the giving index. This tells you what type of people we are, we have the heart to give”.
As one can imagine, running something like this is a full time job but amazingly, all these individuals already have full time jobs and studying commitments. “A lot of work goes behind the scenes, especially with the school meal programmes which operates in Badulla, Jaffna and Colombo. The Community Meal Share programme has heavy logistic operations as we deliver food on a daily basis more towards the evenings. We also send eggs and yogurt to state sector hospitals. Co-ordination of this work can take up a lot of our time. We get support from volunteers to provide refreshments for fuel queues.” Nadeeka says.
Explaining how his operation runs Moses says “We start preparation work at 9 am and start cooking by 10.30 am. We serve food by 12.30.”
The Nugegoda Children’s Meal Club has two cooks who provide the meals and they purchase the dry rations from Pettah to ensure they save more money so that they can feed more.
Keeping up with the increasing costs and shortage of ingredients is a challenge, they all agree. Moses explains “It is challenging with the high prices so we try and stick with the basics and gather and store things where we can. For example rice, dhal and soya, we save money and storage”. Being a nurse, nutrition is very important to Nadeeka so she makes sure the meals are also well balanced nutritionally, so carbohydrates, proteins and fats are balanced. She also mentions they have a few suppliers, so when one is not available to find certain items, the others will step in and they usually can fulfil the gap.