It started with a simple post to Facebook.
“Lockdown is a very stressful time for all and we would like to ease a little of your stress by offering free meals. Please contact us, let us know how many people and your address and we will deliver to your doorstep.”
Now Garry Malhotra and his family have morphed into a fully-fledged business, with volunteers, a dedicated Facebook page, and even an online order form. But the core purpose remains the same.
Thousands of meals are being distributed around the ACT every day to those needing support during lockdown. Not only does this include individual doorsteps, but also the essential staff at COVID-19 testing centres and other medical facilities.
“It’s a big task,” Garry says modestly.
There are currently 10 to 15 people in the kitchen from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm every day.
“Six of us are extended family, three are close friends, and because I’m the Chief Operating Officer for a food preparation training facility in Narrabundah, two of the other trainers are qualified chefs and are helping out. Then there are six people from the community who come in every day.”
The menu is impressive. The options on Sunday consisted of beef bolognaise with egg pasta, grilled chicken with rice and pepper sauce, and potato chickpeas curry with rice.
Initially, Garry and his family were going it alone, but such was the response to their outpouring of time and money that offers of help have quickly sprung up from the local community.
Volunteers have rallied to the kitchen and their cars to deliver the meals to addresses throughout the ACT and Queanbeyan.
Garry is not comfortable taking cash donations as he’s not a registered charitable organisation; instead, he publishes a list of food items needed each week. People are encouraged to drop these off at 61 Jerrabomberra Avenue, Narrabundah, at the AIM Institute of Health & Sciences, between 9:00 and 11:00 am.
Before this, he was delving into his own personal savings.
The idea behind the mammoth effort came to him in the week leading up to the ACT lockdown while in hospital for appendix surgery. He has been on antibiotics ever since, and while they might be staving off infection, they are also affecting his sleep.
This is on top of his wife being five months pregnant. They also have a seven-year-old son.
“Yeah, we could definitely do with a break.”
But with stalwart determination, Garry says he will continue.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from this lockdown, it’s that there are many Canberrans who need support. Canberra is my home, and Canberrans are my family. It’s my responsibility to support my family.”
He says there are rumours that people are taking advantage of the free meals without being in true need, but the feedback he is getting from the volunteers is overwhelmingly positive.
“Over 90 per cent of the people are in true need of support, and even the remaining 10 per cent are often in quarantine and unable to go out or cook for themselves.”
There are wide calls on local Canberra Facebook groups to have Garry Malhotra named ‘Ken Behrens of the Year’.