For the last week, a white van has been parking at the devastated corner of Keen and Magellan Streets in Lismore, serving delicious dahl for free to anyone who is hungry.
Manpreet Singh and Lakhwinder Singh are from Sikh Volunteers Australia Inc., one of two Sikh organisations who have travelled a long way to help the people of the Northern Rivers in their time of need. (The other group, Turbans 4 Australia, were away buying more food to distribute when The Echo was in Lismore.)
The Sikh volunteers have been alternating between flood affected areas of Lismore and Evans Head since they arrived from Melbourne, having travelled via back roads to avoid underwater highways further south.
Manpreet Singh said they had been serving 1,500 meals each day. ‘You can see that people have lost everything but they are still strong. They’re very strong. And they are doing the hard work to create again that good town.’
The duo are no strangers to helping out in emergency situations, having taken their food van to assist after the Gippsland bushfires and into flood affected areas of NSW following the last torrential rains to hit the state.
While they don’t need any assistance themselves, providing their own dahl ingredients, rice and drinks for all in need, they are very aware of what is urgently required for people trying to salvage the city around them, particularly cleaning assistance and supplies.
‘People have lost their business so obviously they need some financial help because they don’t have insurance,’ said Lakhwinder Singh. ‘The government are doing a bit but need to come over and help them.’
During this interview, several grateful people came for free meals.
One woman offered a $100 donation and thanks on behalf of her mother who was especially appreciative of the delicious free food.
Love all, share all
For Lakhwinder and Manpreet, this is just part of what Sikhs do.
Their motto is ‘love all, share all’, with the welfare of the group placed above the ego of the individual. They have been very busy as wave upon wave of disasters crash on Australia and the world, having been running their current program since 2017 from Melbourne.
During the COVID peaks they fed enormous numbers of people. ‘In 2020 we delivered 140,000 meals,’ said Manpreet, ‘and in 2021 we delivered 129,000.’
He explained 90% of the food costs were covered by general public donations and their own community in Melbourne, with about 10% coming from government grants.