People queue to pick up free food at a street food stall taking part in an initiative being carried out by St John the Baptist Parish in Ciamis, West Java. (Photo supplied)
Amid the rapid spread of Covid-19, parishioners in Indonesia's West Java province are defying the risks by coming together and initiating efforts to help the more vulnerable and those most in need.
Through a program called “Love for each other food stall,” parishioners of St. John the Baptist in Ciamis in Bandung Diocese work with street food stall owners to provide free meals for local people.
Alfred, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name, said he and other parishioners have distributed at least 1,000 meals provided by 24 street food vendors.
Dishes include various Indonesian specialties such as fried and yellow rice, meatballs and soto ayam, a chicken noodle soup.
"People facing hardship just have to look for stalls working with us," he told UCA News.
He said they have signs on them that say, “If you are hungry, are having a hard time and need to eat, you can take free food.”
We also hope to inspire other people to work together to overcome the impact of the pandemic
The stalls, which are open from morning until the evening, only need to submit a report on the number of servings they have provided to be reimbursed, Alfred said.
The project started on July 16 for 10 days but it may continue it depending on the situation.
Indonesia is being hit hard by the coronavirus, overtaking India as Asia’s Covid-19 epicenter with at least 50,000 new infections being recorded each day.
"We hope those having difficulty obtaining food can be helped," Alfred said. "We also hope to inspire other people to work together to overcome the impact of the pandemic."
Parish priest Father Mikael Adi Siswanto, who is participating in the aid effort, said the scheme was the brainchild of his parishioners.
"They collect the money needed, which is managed by the parish. We don't take anything from parish funds," he said.
By involving food vendors, the parish also helps those having difficulty selling food because of the emergency lockdown imposed since the beginning of July.
“We could have distributed food prepared by us, as we did before, but we feel this is less effective," Father Siswanto said. "This way, both those in need and food vendors are helped.”
Parish aid also targets residents undergoing self-isolation.
A group of young women in the parish on July 16 distributed food items to 75 self-isolating residents.
“We were informed about them by local authorities. We left items outside some of the homes but most were delivered by the local authorities,” said Jesinta Anselma Walintukan, another parishioner.
"We donated packs containing eggs, milk, biscuits, medicine and fruit.”
The parish, which was only established a year ago with 500 parishioners, is also donating coffins to local hospitals because of a shortage due to a spike in the number of deaths because of a surge in Covid-19 cases in the last few weeks.
"We have donated 40 coffins to hospitals in need," said Father Siswanto.
I always invite parishioners to live in hope. Even if exposed to Covid-19, faith will continue to grow and be maintained
He said the parish’s efforts were being enthusiastically welcomed by the local government and people.
"They have respect because they see that we don't think about ourselves. And are willing to work with us,” he said.
In the midst of the current situation, building solidarity and hope is very important, the priest said.
“I always invite parishioners to live in hope. Even if exposed to Covid-19, faith will continue to grow and be maintained. We don't have to lose heart," he said.
“For me, the Church needs to remain present with the flock whatever the situation. Priests should not be present only when someone holds a party but also during difficult situations."
He recently had to step in and arrange the funeral of a Covid-19 victim in his parish because the family were forced to self-isolate.
Father Siswanto said that by including others in the initiatives, the parish wanted to "light the flame of a candle of hope" in a country which as of July 19 had recorded 2.83 million cases and 72,489 deaths.
"Every day we hear more scary and sad news," he said.
“Instead of continuing to lament and even condemn the situation, this little candle of hope can kindle our spirit, faith and hope in God who is always with us."