STORIES OF COURAGE AND COMPASSION
The onset of the pandemic led to unprecedented policy decisions by governments all over the world. Similarly, the Government of India mandated a complete nationwide lockdown from March 24, 2020. All Central and State government offices, commercial and private establishments were ordered to remain closed. Transport services were suspended. Public gatherings were prohibited; all places of worship – churches, temples, mosques, etc. – had to be shut down. Malls, restaurants and hotels were closed to help stem the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Due to the closure of shops, factories and offices, most employees had to work from home, while others were jobless overnight. While dealing with the threat of the pandemic, lack of livelihood and scarcity of food emerged as two major worries for daily wage-earners, construction workers, contract labourers, street vendors, migrants and many others who were unemployed indefinitely, due to the health emergency. These groups had lost their only source of income, and had no means to make ends meet or provide food for their families.
To ensure ‘No one is in want’, OLPS parish initiated an Outreach programme to help those affected by the crisis. All the 22 SCC Coordinators of our parish took the effort to track down and identify those affected within their communities. These included:
a) Daily wage-earners, even those of other faiths, who had lost their source of income.
b) Other vulnerable groups like the elderly who were alone, and needed help with daily chores like running errands, paying bills, mobile recharge, etc.
c) Those who needed medical aid, and had no one to take care of them.
d) Those who had to pay electricity and other bills
The list was collated at the parish level. A ration kit that would sustain a family of five members for at least a month was provided for those families falling in category ‘a’. A central parish helpline was set up to cater to individuals and families falling in category ‘b’. The Parish Priest personally looked into those falling into the third and fourth category, by coordinating with the Community Coordinators to reach out to the affected people.
In April, a ration kit (consisting of wheat flour, rice, pulses, personal hygiene products like soaps, sanitary napkins and breakfast items like rava, poha, tea, sugar, salt and powdered spices costing about Rs 2500/-) was handed over to families identified in each SCC. Distribution was a challenge due to Section 144 under CrPC enforced in the country, which restricted movement of one or more persons and adherence to various social distancing measures. The distribution was possible with the help of youth from our parish who volunteered to transport the kits, each weighing 40-45 kg, by car to the respective SCCs. Once delivered, the SCC Coordinators took charge of personally handing them over to the identified families. Around 200 families were supported by this endeavour.
The parish decided to conduct similar rounds of distribution in the month of May. However, as restrictions on essential services were relaxed, and provision stores opened, it was decided to support the needy families with financial help in cash. Many families benefited from this initiative through the months of June and July. About 125 families have been supported financially during the past few months.
At the community level, the respective Coordinators have also been helping the needy families in their own way. Other Cells and Associations of the parish also conducted outreach programmes e.g. the SVP members provided for the families under their care. About 173 families were supported, beside the financial assistance given to 22 families adopted by the SVP.
The parish has plans to continue this outreach in the future. It has been possible only due to the ongoing spirited support and generous contributions received from several parishioners and other benevolent donors.
Fr Theodore D’Souza, CSsR
OLPS Church, Chembur