Sikh community dishes up 12,000 free meals a week for the vulnerable

Volunteers packing lentil curry and rice at Central Sikh Temple. PHOTO: CENTRAL SIKH GURDWARA BOARD'S LANGGAR PICK-UP PROGRAM

The days are long but rewarding for members of the Sikh community who answered the call to assist those made vulnerable by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Starting at 6am each day, two groups of volunteers start preparing thousands of meals in the kitchens of two gurdwaras (temples). They wash and cut two bags worth of onions and cook 70kg of lentils and 150kg of rice. Then they pack the vegetarian meals to be distributed at the temples.

And at 1pm, the volunteers are back in the kitchens to repeat the same process for dinner.

The Langgar (Free Kitchen) Pick-up Programme serves 10,000 Punjabi meals every week. It was launched in March as stepped-up efforts by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The menu includes rice, chapati, lentil curry and another vegetable dish. Occasionally, more local flavours, including vegetarian fried rice, mee goreng and a sweet dish, are served.

The new programme complements the Langgar Outreach Programme, an initiative by the Sikh community that has been running in Singapore for years at five distribution and pick-up locations in other gurdwaras.

Both programmes serve a total of 12,000 meals a week.

In compliance with safe-distancing rules, 15 volunteers at a time are allowed to work in the Central Sikh Temple and Silat Road Sikh Temple kitchens.

"The operation is well-planned and efficiently run, which is surprising as we lack additional machinery to streamline the workload," said 38-year-old entrepreneur Tejpal Singh Sandhu.

His fellow volunteer Harbahjan Singh Gosal, 64, said the process has to be precise as the food must be ready at specific times.

"Although the kitchens are quite well-ventilated, the work itself is hard and tiring as there are large quantities of food to cook," said the retired military expert.

The Sikh community relies on donors to provide those 12,000 meals every week. And while the programme gets referrals from groups such as the Sikh Welfare Council about people who need help, the free meals are available to all and can be picked up at the gurdwara's gate.

Meals are delivered to the homes of those who are unable to travel.

The community has also launched the #SGSewa hotline to assist vulnerable fellow residents with counselling, and legal, financial and medical assistance. The task force, with a core team of eight volunteers, has responded to over 1,300 calls from people of all faiths.

A volunteer preparing a meal under the Sikh community's free kitchen programme.
A volunteer preparing a meal under the Sikh community's free kitchen programme. PHOTO: CENTRAL SIKH GURDWARA BOARD'S LANGGAR PICK-UP PROGRAMME

"Whenever there is a natural or man-made disaster, the Sikh community is always among the first to respond through Langgar by feeding others," said former Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh, who is also chairman of the Coordinating Council of Sikh Institutions.

"I am glad that through this important way, we are able to play a role in helping Singapore society during this challenging time," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2020, with the headline Sikh community dishes up 12,000 free meals a week for the vulnerable. Subscribe