The owners of a Nepalese restaurant are nearing their target of handing out 100,000 free meals during the pandemic.
Sujan and Bandana Katuwal, who run the Panas Gurkha in Lewisham, south London, began giving out meals to NHS staff at nearby University Hospital during the first lockdown last year.
Nearly a year on, having also given out meals at community centres, homeless projects and care homes, they have provided more than 80,000 meals.
“We never thought we would come this far,” Mr Katuwal, 46, told the PA news agency. “We never thought the campaign would do this much.”
The couple have already received recognition for their work – they were given the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service last year.
Having funded much of their giving themselves, the couple have launched a fundraising campaign to help them keep up their work, and have received high-profile backing from stars including actresses Joanna Lumley and Sally Lindsay and former Style Council drummer Steve White.
Ms Lumley, well known for her support of Nepalese former Gurkha soldiers in the UK, sent a message of support to the Katuwals’ Panas Helping Hands campaign last week in which she described them as “quite wonderful”.
She said: “A thousand congratulations for all that you’re doing – 80,000 meals you’ve put out already and you’re aiming for 100,000.
“Now I’m sure you’re going to get support to do that.”
Mr Katuwal said when he was forced to shut his restaurant in the first lockdown last year, his first instinct was to “run away” and “close down”.
He added: “It was my wife who said ‘listen, our community has always been there for us to help us, support us in difficult times, so why don’t we help the community before we shut down?’
“This is how the journey started.”
He said he was initially terrified of the virus, but when they started delivering meals to their local hospital he found inspiration from the staff working there, who he described as “heroes”.
He said: “We saw people smiling, appreciating what we were doing, and I was like ‘oh my god’ – they should be scared more than us but I was scared more.
“Once I saw them, they gave me a positive vibe – wow, these people are incredible.”
Mr Katuwal said he was also inspired by other prominent figures doing public-spirited acts, including fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore.
“He was the biggest inspiration,” Mr Katuwal said.
“And then even Marcus Rashford, this young boy, the mission he took – I really want to get involved if I can in some way contribute to what he’s doing.”
Now he expects he and Mrs Katuwal will continue with their work long after the pandemic is over.
“Covid has changed me,” he said. “I will be and my wife will be doing these things for years and years to come.”
To donate, head to gofundme.com/f/help-panas-gurkha-continue-to-feed-our-nhs-heroes