After being virtually free of Covid-19 for most of the pandemic, New Zealand instituted a lockdown in August after discovering its first case in six months. Auckland, the epicenter of the outbreak, has remained in lockdown for over 90 days now, while most of the rest of the country has been living with minimal restrictions. Domestic borders around Auckland are set to reopen from December 15th for fully vaccinated people and those with negative test results. Meanwhile, ISKCON devotees in Auckland have been feeding prasadam to thousands during trying times.
“We thought, we can’t just sit around the farm and do nothing,” says Auckland temple president Kalasamvara Das. “We decided to try and distribute prasadam. Because you weren’t allowed out of your suburb, we had to get permission from government officials to go to different suburbs around Auckland. We contacted the Minister of Health and she was really impressed because we planned to feed a few hundred people at a time. We explained that we were financing it mainly through donations because a lot of the devotees here like to donate for free food distribution.”
Congregation devotees such as organizer Anand, along with Krishna Chandra, Haripriya, and Saubhagya Sundari have distributed thousands of meals so far, going out on Saturdays and Sundays, and sometimes three or four nights a week. With precautions such as masks, gloves, and social distancing, they hand out pre-packaged prasadam meals of curd subji, rice, salad, and halava.
Meals are distributed in the city, in all the suburbs around Auckland, and to homeless people in “community hubs,” as well as those who cannot work due to lockdown. Meals are also dropped off at the door of Starship Children’s Hospital for staff to distribute.
The free food is advertised on local TV station Apna, which draws interest. Devotees then set up their tables with prasadam and a “Hare Krishna Free Food” sign in public spots such as parking lots, and give out meals to pedestrians or passing cars.
“Before you know it, we’ve handed out 300 or 400 packs of prasadam,” Kalasamvara grins. “Some people came up pulling out their vaccine card because they thought we were part of the government’s vaccination campaign, and that they got a free meal with their vaccine. So we just went along with it!”
The response from people, according to Kalasamvara, has been enthusiastic, with many telling the devotees, “I really appreciate you guys coming out and helping.” Representatives of government departments, such as Taff Wikaira, Regional Partnership Lead – Homelessness, have also expressed appreciation.
The lockdown prasadam distribution is set to continue for another four to six weeks. After that, as Auckland moves into the new traffic-light system, which will end lockdowns and use social distancing and other measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, devotees are set to restart their usual Saturday Harinama, book distribution, and prasadam distribution program in the suburbs. They are also likely to restart distributing prasadam at schools, with each school ranging in size from 80 to 1,200 students.
“I think prasadam is a great thing because it’s universal, it’s relatable, and it’s mercy,” Kalasamvara says. “Just to see people relishing prasad, brings joy to the heart. I think it’s one of the best things we can do.”
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org