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Food in the time of disaster

Australia has long been a land of drought and flooding rains but the much-welcomed appearance of Sikh Volunteers Australia, providing nutritious and free food to those impacted by natural disasters, is a more recent phenomenon.

Sikh volunteers preparing food for distributation to people in need.

It was 2017 when members of the Sikh Volunteers Australia decided to begin serving free meals to those in need. The aim was to replicate the Sikh practice of langar, which is essentially providing a community kitchen that serves people no matter their religion or status.

The food served is always vegetarian and everyone is served the same portion size, in keeping with the langer concept that everyone is equal.

Initially the group’s food van provided meals and drinking water to homeless people, but it soon expanded to meet the community’s need, hitting the headlines in 2020 for its work in providing aid for 16 days at an evacuation centre established at Bairnsdale for bushfire victims, and later 142,000 free meals to those impacted by the pandemic.

CEO Jaswinder Singh says the organisation now has 300 registered volunteers, with about 100 of those being actively involved. At the height of the pandemic, their numbers swelled to more than 500.

‘At this stage, we have equal numbers of volunteers from the wider community as Sikh community volunteers – the ratio is sitting at almost 50:50,’ Jaswinder says.

‘It's good to see people from the different communities, different backgrounds, different religions are communicating. I personally believe that part of the reason they volunteer with us is to serve the community, but another part of the reason is that they get to socialise. They have a place to get together and talk with people and they feel like they belong.’

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organisation and Jaswinder says older people are among the most dedicated. At the height of the pandemic, one senior drove 60 kilometres each day from his home in East Gippsland to the organisation’s base in Devon Meadows to pick up meals.

‘When he drove back, all those 60 kilometres, he was distributing the meals along the way. So, you can imagine the amount of dedication that person has.’

Sikh Volunteers Australia has been recognised with awards including the Australian Human Rights Heroes 2020 Award and the 2021 Premier’s Award for Community Harmony. The Victorian Government recently pledged $700,000 to help the organisation build a new community kitchen to increase its capacity.

Interested in volunteering? Learn more at Sikh Volunteers Australia IncExternal Link .

Reviewed 13 April 2023