As with all temples around the world during the COVID-19 Pandemic, ISKCON Hungary’s properties in Budapest and Krishna Valley have been locked down, and devotees are staying at home. Krishna Valley is nearly self-sufficient in some foods, such as grains, flour, fruits, vegetables and honey, and devotees are working hard in the fields to increase their food production during this time and reduce trips to the store.
Meanwhile, all community programs, counselor systems, and morning programs have been moved online, as have outreach programs for the public. Popular preacher Lilasuka Das, for instance, is doing live videos on how to mentally survive such challenging times; while Bhaktipada Das is filming videos to show the public what everyday life is like in Krishna Valley during the crisis. All videos and live events are broadcast on Krishna Valley’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/krisnavolgy.
There is, however, one public service the devotees are continuing in person – and that’s Food For Life.
“We see that because of the Coronavirus, more and more people are losing their jobs, and running out of money,” says ISKCON Hungary spokesperson Gandharvika Prema Dasi. “And they have no support. So the number of people in need has been growing.”
Food For Life also distributes Food Bank donations that people can use to cook for themselves
The ten devotees on the Food For Life Foundation team are joined by ten volunteers from outside the ISKCON community, including actors and producers who are now out of work since all the theaters have closed down.
Every day, the team distribute free prasadam in the Northern city of Eger, in three villages surrounding Krishna Valley, and in Hungary’s capital, Budapest.
Food For Life is now serving out 2,400 plates of prasadam daily – twice as much as before the pandemic – with 1,800 of those in plates in Budapest alone.
The team works hard. Cooks start preparing food at around 6:00am, volunteers drive it out to different parts of the city and distribute it at lunchtime, and everyone finishes up their day at three or four in the afternoon.
Food For Life volunteers distribute free prasadam downtown every Monday to Friday
From Monday to Friday, prasadam is distributed daily at four different spots in the city where the most underprivileged people live, as well as at BMSZKI, a homeless service institution run by the local Municipality. People in general can also get free food at a daily serve out in Népliget , a city park.
Increased hygiene standards are observed during the Coronavirus pandemic, with all cooks remaining in quarantine, all groceries sanitized before they enter the kitchen, and all kitchen work surfaces, transport vehicles, and tables where the food is distributed also carefully sanitized. In addition, volunteers wash their hands regularly and wear masks and gloves, while recipients of the prasadam are asked to stand in line with two meters’ distance between each person.
Rather than traditional Indian prasadam, Food For Life serves out dishes more tailored to the Hungarian palate, such as bean or lentil soup, spinach preparations and more, rotating through twenty different menus.
“We give people as much prasadam as they want in containers, so they can take it back to their families, neighbors or friends,” Gandharvika Prema says. “As well as the hot food, we also give them a variety of groceries we get from the food bank, such as fruits, vegetables, and canned foods, so that they can use it to cook for themselves.”
Printed footprints ensure prasadam recipients maintain the right amount of social distance when in line
What’s more, Food For Life isn’t just feeding people. Along with each plate, devotees are also distributing 10,000 free face masks donated by Lagoon, a devotee-owned business that recently switched its production from clothing to face masks, to help people stay healthy during the pandemic.
“We found that there is a lack of masks available now, and even if you can find them in the pharmacy or elsewhere, they are so expensive,” says Gandharvika Prema. “So we decided to do this mask-giving campaign throughout the country; and the first ones to get them are our Food For Life recipients.” (Devotees will also distribute the washable masks to hospitals and other institutions, as well as to ISKCON congregational members.)
Gandharvika adds: “I met one mother who told me, ‘I have a thousand forints (the Hungarian currency), and I have to decide whether to buy a mask or 1 kg of potatoes and some flour. So this is how people are living these days.”
Devotees are distributing 10,000 facemasks
In addition to the general public, Food For Life is also providing meals to a laboratory in Budapest where scientists are doing research on the Coronavirus, as well as to four different hospitals and one ambulance station.
“Healthcare workers are today’s heroes,” Gandharvika Prema says. “And now many of them are eating prasadam!”
Prasadam distribution for people in general and especially those who need it most, is, of course, always a highly appreciated method of outreach for ISKCON. But in this time of crisis, Gandharvika Prema explains, it is especially important.
Donating face masks to the director of the Reformed Church's hospital in Budapest
“People are feeling insecure, and are mulling over questions like ‘Why is this happening to us?’” she says. “So many are isolated, get only bad news from the TV and radio, and are surrounded by negative and depressed neighbors. They need to connect with others, especially those who have a positive mood and some answers. So prasadam distribution is the perfect way for devotees to meet with these people, and give them God, some happiness, and hope.”
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If you would like to donate to Food For Life Foundation’s prasadam distribution in Hungary during the COVID-19 Pandemic, please send money using the bank details below.
Account holder: Etelt az Eletert Alapitvany
Address: Hungary, 1039 Budapest, Lehel street 15.
IBAN code: HU55 - 1030 - 0002 - 1063 - 1840 - 4902 - 0019
SWIFT code: MKKB HU HB
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