Soup kitchens feed Sri Lanka’s poor amid grim economic crisis

Aru de Silva, 36, a volunteer, hands out tokens for free food at a church community kitchen, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 25, 2022. REUTERS

COLOMBO — Without fuel or money for food, HG Indrani and his family of nine trudged for an hour to a community kitchen in Colombo, hoping to find a simple vegetarian meal.

Rampant food inflation and chronic shortages of cooking gas and petrol are making daily life a battle for millions amid Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 .

“There is no income,” said Indrani, one of hundreds queuing in the midday sun at a church-run makeshift kitchen. “There is no food most of the time, we suffered a lot.”

The price of a kilogram of rice has risen to 250 rupees from 90 rupees six months ago, she said.

“There is no food at home,” the 57-year-old added. “We will have to suffer more. We only want to eat, to survive.

Soup kitchens feed Sri Lanka's poor amid grim economic crisis

People eat at a community kitchen as others line up to receive food inside a church, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka July 25, 2022. REUTERS

Two dozen volunteers boil rice, dice onions and scrape the flesh from coconuts as they cook over open fires due to a lack of gas in the flat roof space of the church near the parliament of Sri Lanka.

“The need is so great,” said Akila Alles, chief operating officer of Bethany Christian Life Center, which has installed kitchens in 12 of its churches and served food to about 1,500 people every day since June.

“Inflation is so high that people cannot afford to eat. Without gas, people cannot cook and without transportation, people cannot work.

Conditions are grim enough that more than 5 million Sri Lankans have reported being forced to skip meals to cope, the World Food Program said on Twitter this week.

Soup kitchens feed Sri Lanka's poor amid grim economic crisis

Moses Akash De Silva prepares food in a community kitchen at a church, amid the country’s economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 25, 2022. REUTERS

Months of anti-government protests that culminated this month after thousands stormed government buildings, toppling former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, crossed religious and ethnic lines in the diverse nation of ‘Indian Ocean.

Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks regularly attended the protests, and communities worked together to meet growing humanitarian needs.

Donations have come from as far away as China and Vietnam, with a Buddhist monk dropping off a large donation of rice at the church.

“Sometimes people who come here have nothing at all,” volunteer cook KD Irani said as he stirred a cauldron of dal, or lentils.

“I’m 66, but I’ve never seen such a crisis in my life. We’re doing this for the love of the people.

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