As COVID news gets worse at home, London's South Asian community digs in to help here

As they endure dire news about the COVID-19 situation in India, members of the London-area's South Asian community are working overtime, preparing meals and delivering them to people in need.

Group of volunteers cook and deliver 350 meals a day to people struggling

Every day Bhavin Patel and about 45 volunteers cook 350 meals in the kitchen of the Wayside restaurant in Talbotville then deliver them to people in need, some as far away as the Toronto area. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

These aren't easy days for anyone, certainly not for Bhavin Patel and others with roots in India.

The country of his birth reported more than 300,000 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday. It's a frightening surge in the world's second-most populous country. The situation prompted the federal government to ban flights from India and Pakistan 30 for days.

In January, Patel became the owner of the Wayside Restaurant in Talbotville, just north of St. Thomas. And while he's able to do some delivery and curbside pickup, the Wayside's massive dining area is empty, thanks to the most recent COVID-19 shutdown. 

Despite the lack of diners, Patel's kitchen is a busy place every morning as workers scramble to prepare 350 takeout Indian meals. But these carefully packaged meals of chana masala, butter chicken, rice and naan bread aren't going to paying customers. They're for people across southwestern Ontario in need of a free meal delivered to their door. The meals feed seniors, people in poverty and people who feel unsafe venturing outside as Ontario battles a third wave of infections.

Some of the clients are a 90-minute drive away. 

The meal program has grown to the point where members of the local south-Asian community are cooking and delivering about 350 meals a day to people in need. (Facebook)

"We even go to Woodstock, we go to the GTA too," he said. "Wherever it's needed. People will call us 24/7. Whatever the way we can help them, we try to help them how we can. It's teamwork. It's not work by one person, it's work by each and every one."

As the meals are delivered volunteers hear plenty from people who are hurting. The meals offer some comfort in what can feel like the worst of times.

"Some people they don't have a job, some people they got laid off, some people don't want to out out of the house," said Patel. "A lot of times people are struggling, like homeless people. We say, 'We don't give you the money but we give you the food.'" 

The meal program started last year in the early days of the pandemic. It started mainly as a service to deliver groceries to those who couldn't get their own. 

Since then it's expanded to a full meal program, one that's managed to keep operating without cash donations. People donate groceries, gas and their time and Patel makes sure the meals get made.

His phone can ring at all hours. Despite this, he asks if CBC News can include his phone number in the online story. He doesn't want anyone in need of help to go without (his number is 519-615-0678).

It all takes a lot of effort. So what motivates Patel and his team of volunteers to keep doing it? 

"We believe in karma," he said. "What goes around, comes around. We want to bring the community together. This pandemic time, it's a very rough time. We all need to get together to solve the whole problem. Our slogan is proudly supporting all communities." 


Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.