Coronavirus: Dubai neighbours send free groceries to 700 workers

Cleaner, Janette Gonzales, says she was able to stock her cupboards with food due to generosity of strangers

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A group of neighbours in Dubai are delivering hundreds of food packages to low income workers across the city.

Over the past week, Vaibhav Gupta and Fiona Day helped to deliver free groceries to those unable to afford them through online orders and drivers with move permits.

So far, the duo have sent essential items including rice, cooking oil and spices to 700 men and women in room shares across Sharjah, Karama and Bur Dubai.

The neighbours, who live in The Springs community, said they felt “obliged to help the vulnerable” during the pandemic.

"It started with a message I came across on our community Facebook group," Mr Gupta told The National.

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Somewhere in the middle are single people living in small bed spaces … so that's where we will focus the majority of our efforts now

“Fiona posted saying she had a business in Nepal and knew some Nepalese workers in Dubai that were struggling without much food.

“I reached out and offered to help and it just spiralled from there.”

With his own work hours reduced, Mr Gupta said he was saddened to hear that people were "going to sleep on an empty stomach", so wanted to put his spare time to good use.

After spreading the word to neighbours, he began collecting and bagging items to distribute to those struggling during the Covid-19 restrictions.

And on Sunday, he created the Being Kind UAE Facebook group to connect those in need with those willing to offer help.

“As we understand from the posts we have seen online, there are a few key community groups that need help,” he said.

“At the top of the pyramid is families with kids, then workers in labour camps.

“Somewhere in the middle are single people living in small bed spaces.

“Sometimes they are forgotten so that’s where we will focus the majority of our efforts now.”

The coronavirus outbreak has upended many aspects of daily life, not least for low income workers.

As companies struggle to operate amid the global restrictions, many people have been asked to go on unpaid leave.

One such worker is Janette Gonzales, 35, who moved to Dubai in December.

Last month, the Filipina cleaner stopped receiving her Dh2,000 a month salary.

Despite not knowing when her next full salary will be paid, she has been able to stock up on food thanks to the “generosity of strangers”.

“I was told my salary would be stopped because of the virus spread, so I’m one of many that are now in limbo with no work and no pay,” she said.

“I was desperate for help and put a post out on Facebook a few days ago.

Vaibhav Gupta has been using his home living room to bag up food essentials for workers. Courtesy: Vaibhav Gupta

“The next day Mr Gupta replied and asked me to send him a list of the items I needed.

“He was a total stranger but with a beautiful heart.

“I received some items and am waiting for more to be delivered.

“To know we have food for the next few weeks is a blessing.”

Living in a 10-bed room share in Satwa, she said many of her roommates were stuck in the UAE on visit visas with “little to no money”.

In the same neighbourhood, Princess Gonzal, 31, said she was sharing her salary with friends.

“I work as an accounts manager for a shipping company so I am still working from home,” she said.

“I receive Dh3,500 a month but I am sharing my room with six people and many are not working.

“I have been buying food for them but our stocks were running low so I was given Mr Gupta’s number.

“We now have a confirmed food delivery coming on Thursday so we are very thankful that we have meat, noodles and other canned goods on the way.”

With strict movement permits in place in Dubai, Mr Gupta said he was currently in talks with supermarkets to deliver items “direct to a person’s door”.

“I am reaching out to embassies to see how we can support them as the logistics are quite a challenge" during the restriction period, he said.

“Additionally, a lot of these people do not have equipment to cook so I am talking to restaurants to see if we can pay for pre-packed meals to be sent direct to their accommodation.”

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