Indian restaurants across North America, South America and Europe have joined together to raise funds for oxygen tanks to provide necessary medical support for people in India dealing with the devastating effects of a variant-driven COVID-19 wave.
The campaign, called 1 Billion Breaths, was founded by New York City restaurateur Basu Ratnam, who connected with businesses globally to collaborate on the project. The campaign website now lists 40 Indian restaurants in Canada, the U.S., the UK and Peru, including five Indian restaurants in Toronto: Haldi Indian Cuisine, Bhai’s Indian Canteen, Curryish, Mantra and the Host.
Customers can order pre-set takeout meals for two to four people priced at around $87. All the proceeds will go to the campaign to help purchase one oxygen tank through Give India Oxygen, which provides tanks directly to people in India suffering from COVID-19. The initiative started on May 23 and will run through May 30.
Ashish Sethi, the chef at Mantra in Toronto, says he wanted to get the restaurant involved after hearing about the campaign through friends in the industry in the U.S. and Canada.
“It was put together very quickly because things are happening so quickly back in India. Almost everyone felt a little bit of panic or sense of urgency,” he says. “Any one of us either directly knew somebody or had somebody very close to them know someone who was getting COVID and passing away.”
Sethi says people in India who need to go to the hospital for COVID-19 are expected to bring their own oxygen tank and even some of their own medication because there isn’t enough supply.
“Five people can be hooked up to that one oxygen tank, so they’re able to find a way to stretch it out to so many people and make a real impact,” he says. “We’re a bunch of mostly small family businesses. We all are trying to sell anywhere between 75 to 100 meals each as a restaurant.”
He says so far, Mantra has received many pre-orders for the upcoming weekend, though he doesn’t know exact numbers. At Mantra, orders can be made at any time for the pre-set meal, though some restaurants in Toronto are doing pre-orders only.
Miheer Shete, the owner and chef behind Curryish, says the restaurant is doing pre-orders only, with today being the last day to place an order for Saturday. Shete opened Curryish in the past year after losing his job, and says he’s been inspired to give back after witnessing the support he received when opening his new venture.
“There’s nothing better than giving back to the motherland where I come from,” he says. “My entire family is back in India, and my direct family has not been affected by COVID, but I know of my distant relatives, a few passed away due to COVID.”
Sethi says Mantra has included dishes in their meal box that aren’t normally on the menu, including ones that they usually only reserve for weddings and big parties.
“About 50 per cent of our regulars are just buying a box to support because they also have family in India and they wanted to order from us anyway, so we’re just kind of tapping into our regular clientele.”
Earlier this week, India’s health ministry reported more than 300,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths – the third highest COVID death toll in the world after the U.S. and Brazil. Chronic oxygen shortages – a key treatment for COVID-19 patients – a black fungus epidemic among COVID patients and a slowed vaccine rollout have complicated the country’s ability to respond to the surging cases.
Contact Haldi Indian Cuisine, Bhai’s Indian Canteen, Curryish, Mantra or the Host for details on how to order a meal and support 1 Billion Breaths.