Members of the Sikh community in Victoria’s regional town of Shepparton have stepped up to serve free meals and grocery kits after nearly one-third of its population has been forced into COVID-induced isolation as the list of exposure sites continues to grow.
In an interview with SBS Punjabi, the gurudwara secretary Gurmeet Singh said the situation became critical after over 16,000 people were asked to self-isolate as the town became the centre of the most significant Delta outbreak in regional Victoria.
“It became tough to handle once the virus hit our schools. It resulted in putting over one-third of the town’s population in isolation. The massive scale of the outbreak prompted us to provide free food and grocery services to the most vulnerable residents,” he said.
Mr Singh said the volunteers have served over 100 families and are committed to reaching out to many more in days to come.
Sikh volunteer preparing containers filled with cooked lentils and rice
Mr Singh said they are currently struggling to meet the growing demand for free food as many of their volunteers have also been impacted.
“We don’t have many volunteers who can assist with our day-to-day operations. But hopefully, we will be able to help more people towards the end of this week.
“We were in a rather comfortable position compared to metropolitan Melbourne before this lockdown. But the recent outbreak has hit us severely,” he added.
Kamaldeep Singh, a representative of the charity group Khalsa Foundation, said they have been helping the community during various lockdowns across Victoria.
“We have experienced a significant surge in demand for free meals since the pandemic. Our initiative aims to help disadvantaged people and those in need of a meal during these challenging times.
“It is a joint effort of the local Sikh community that follows the principles and philosophy of the Sikh Gurus, who taught us the fundamental concept of humanity, which is to respect and share what we have with others,” he said.
Acknowledging the Khalsa Foundation’s efforts in a media release on 26 August, the Victorian Government said their service is being funded so they can continue their food delivery service providing groceries and essential items to Shepparton residents.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the Government has funded more than 320 community organisations through the program to provide emergency relief, food support and community outreach, as well as targeted communication through translated materials and community-led content,” the statement read.
The state government said it has invested nearly $23 million to support more than 500,000 Victorians since August 2020.
Meanwhile, authorities and the Red Cross have conducted more than 1600 compliance and welfare checks in Shepparton.
Hundreds of food packages were delivered to vulnerable community members last week, while Coles has also donated two semi-trailers full of products to a local food share agency.
Shepparton has a thriving CALD community represented by dozens of backgrounds and language groups, including the Punjabi-speaking Sikh community.
The town also has the largest Indigenous population in regional Victoria.