Social media is helping neighbors connect and help each other during social distancing.
The Facebook group Caremongers India, which now has about 45,000 members, was started by Mahita Nagaraj, a digital marketing professional from Bangalore, at the onset of the pandemic. In addition to members offering to help each other with basic needs during a time of social distancing, there is also a helpline and a Whatsapp number. In the early days of the coronavirus, the group was receiving more than 1000 calls and 2000 messages every day.
The Caremongers group has fulfilled 16,000 requests since its inception. Food has been being delivered to the elderly and help and support given to women in abusive relationships.
In mid-March, Sandhya Honawar, 67 years old and from Mumbai, visited her psychiatrist. Since the pandemic had already reached India, she knew a lockdown was inevitable and she wanted to make sure she refilled her prescriptions before it happened. However, she had difficulty obtaining the medication after a refill was written. It was simply two soon, and some pharmacies were out what she needed.
So, at the advice of a friend, Honawar turned to Caremongers. She posted, “The withdrawal symptoms can be very bad where you become completely immobilised, you can’t think, you can’t keep your eyes open, you get brain zaps. Can someone please help me?”
Within hours of her post, there were 165 comments. “I was just overwhelmed by the kindness from complete strangers,” Honawar said. Aarti Klinge, another member, saw her post and called a psychiatrist who sent Honawar a fresh prescription via WhatsApp. Honawar then sent the prescription to those who offered to get her medications.
“I thought, even I might need help someday. She was alone. I had to help her in any way possible, even though there were moments when I was afraid, standing in line with people around. After a few rounds to pharmacies, I found one which agreed to home deliver,” says Klinge.
Vikas Khanna, one of the judges of Star Plus series MasterChef India is also helping out in a big way. He recently turned his focus to India’s hungry, providing millions of meals to the poorest communities hit hard by COVID-19. The chef was born in India and came to New York two decades ago.
“We’ve totally failed our people,” he said. “I wanted to show that solidarity still exists.” Khanna added, “My mom lives alone in Amritsar, and I thought: What if she needed help and there was no one to help her?”
To date, the chef’s initiative has distributed more than seven million packets of dry food and cooked meals over the past month in more than a hundred cities in India. He estimated his relief effort has fed around 275,000 people each day. And, while the effort initially began with delivering dry ingredients to orphanages, old-age homes, leprosy centers, and poor neighborhoods, he has since expanded its reach to include migrant workers.
Khanna realized dry food was of no use to this population, but cooked meals would be, so he partnered with Bharat Petroleum, one of the biggest gas companies in India, to set up soup kitchens at gas stations. Feast kits for more than 200,000 people in Mumbai were delivered and included rice, lentils, flour, fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, spices, sugar, pasta, oil, dried fruit and other items.
The coronavirus has caused systemic devastation all over the world. But, at the same time, it has caused people to come together and support each other in ways they may not have thought to before. The mission statement of Caremongers India sums it up, “Let’s stop spreading fear – let’s spread love instead.”