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Volunteers in India deliver meals to families as COVID-19 crisis takes its toll

Rickshaw volunteers help Indians in need
Rickshaw volunteers help Indians in need 02:50

COVID-19's recent surge in India has been devastating. The virus has caused at least 29 million infections, and 363,000 deaths — most of them since the middle of April. While new cases are declining, the nation of more than 1 billion people continues to struggle with the societal effects of the virus.

In one major city, an army of volunteers is trying to deliver help and hope — all on three wheels. 

As CBS News' Chris Livesay reports, they're called auto rickshaws, and they typify India's chaotic streets. Now, as the pandemic rages in the country, they also typify efforts to save lives.

One rushes a 60-year-old patient to the hospital. Another zooms food to victims and their families. It's a lot to ask of the modest, three-wheeled taxis. But as India reels in a catastrophic second wave of COVID, heroes have emerged in unlikely shapes and sizes.

"New Delhi is choking under COVID," said cabbie Raj Kumar, who provides an ambulance service using rickshaws. "If everyone stayed home because they were scared, then who's going to help those in need?" he said. 

Other rickshaw drivers organize at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh temple where cooks prepare 35,000 hot meals every day and zip them out to the poor, among those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Once they arrive, drivers descend by foot into some of the poorest neighborhoods in New Delhi, where COVID and hunger are a lethal combination, according to local resident Rita Malhotra.

"There's no work amid the lockdown and the pandemic," she said. "If it weren't for this food, people here could starve."

Many of the volunteers are out of a job. Gangadeep Singh worked as a school bus driver until a citywide lockdown closed all the schools.

"Now I have a lot of free time," he said. "So I thought it was a good idea to use it to help save the lives of COVID patients – my neighbors."

With the virus killing Indians in record numbers, as well as the economy, the food deliveries are nothing short of a life-saver.

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