News National Hungry for connection: Meet the people sharing food to help their community through lockdown

Hungry for connection: Meet the people sharing food to help their community through lockdown

Volunteers at Lutfiyes Shish Kebab are serving up hundreds of free meals each day. Photo: Supplied
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Sure, silver beet doesn’t defeat Delta.

But growing the greens has stopped the symptoms of the other pandemic – loneliness – looming in lockdown for 80-year-old Gurnam Sidhu.

Mr Sidhu doesn’t speak the language of most Australians he passes in the streets of Werribee, in Melbourne’s southwest, where he has made a home since moving from India a decade ago.

So tending to a veggie patch has been a way of linking the former policeman and farmer to the community.

Knowing the vegetables will go to people in need has also given Mr Sidhu purpose while the city is at a standstill.

Little acts of kindness like his go a long way, especially in COVID times.

Gurnam Sidhu
Veggies cared for by members of Tarneit Sikh Temple members like Gurnam Sidhu have helped nourish locked-down locals. Photo: Jasvinder Sidhu

This time, the produce harvested by Mr Sidhu and other Sikh community members has headed 200km up the Hume Highway to Shepparton, where there has been a food shortage after a third of the town, around 20,000 people, were forced into isolation and essential shops – including some supermarkets – were shuttered.

“I believe sooner or later we all pass through crisis,” Mr Sidhu’s son Jasvinder Sidhu said.

The delivery will help people “because they remember that when they were in need there was someone … that feeling people will always have in their mind.

“People never forget that.

“That’s what the Sikh culture is – we have to help someone who is unknown to us and we want nothing in return.”

The people of the Goulburn Valley have spent weeks on edge after the state’s worst outbreak outside the capital plunged the whole of Victoria into a strict lockdown with a 9pm curfew.

COVID had not been detected for more than 300 days in the region when a single case was announced on Friday, August 20. Eleven people were sick by that afternoon. By night, the number had jumped to 23.

It’s been three weeks of worry since then, and adding to the concern is the fact health authorities still don’t know how the Delta strain spread to Shepparton.

‘We have to look after each other’

Locals were dealt another blow on Friday when all of regional Victoria was let out of lockdown except for them.

Many are feeling weary in their sixth shutdown, separated from friends and family.

People are hungry for connection, and sharing food brings them together – even if it’s just dropped on a doorstep with nothing more than a fleeting wave from a stranger.

That’s what volunteers working with Lutfiyes Shish Kebabs owners Jeihan and Azem Elmaz have been doing, to help ease the financial burden on people losing work or stuck in isolation.

They are dishing out up to 600 free packs of moussaka or curry, rice and bread a day.

“People are doing it tough,” Mr Elmaz said.

Jeihan and Azem Elmaz have been giving out free moussaka, curry, and more. Photo: Facebook

The proprietor, who came to town 32 years ago after moving from Albania, said some locals had hesitated to ask for help but he has a “no embarrassment” policy where anyone can text message to ask for food.

“Australians are very proud … but one way or another we have to look after each other,” Mr Elmaz said.

“They’ve been calling and saying ‘You don’t know how much this means to me’.

“We’re blessed … I’m proud to be part of this community.”

Lockdown ‘dinner club’

Also dropping food at doors is Lauren Whelan, who is part of a “secret dinner club” with her friends.

“That way we’re all eating the same meal at the same time, sharing,” she said.

Taking a jar of homemade pasta sauce to the neighbours also resulted in new friends for the myotherapist and mum of two who moved with her partner back to “Shepp”, where she grew up, just before lockdown hit.

Since then, there have been countless random acts of kindness across her neighbourhood.

Lauren Whelan’s lockdown ‘dinner club’ is keeping friends connected. Photo: Supplied

That included a mammoth effort by local golf club employee David Collier, who got his hands on a coffee van and delivered personalised orders to people stuck at home in isolation.

“When a third of Shepp’ was put into full 14-day quarantine, everything came to a standstill,” Ms Whelan said.

“Shops couldn’t open because they didn’t have workers – it happened overnight.

“You become very self-reliant … it’s forced us to slow down, to get to know our neighbours.”

On Saturday, Shepparton locals were delivered some much-needed good news: no new locally transmitted cases in the town. There are still 61 active cases, but health data shows there’s been a downward trend for six days straight.

Still, the city is yet to find out when their lockdown will end.

Whatever happens, volunteers have vowed they will keep bellies full and spirits high.

“We’ll keep going until this is done, until Christmas if we need to,” Mr Elmaz said.

Have you noticed a community hero in lockdown? Or a random act of kindness? We’d love to hear about it. Email

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