Ditching global studies at Monash University, Alex Dekker is now whipping up 1000 meals a day, feeding international students and more.
There is a saying that when you reach out to the universe for your path, the universe conspires to bring it to you. That’s what happened to Dekker, giving him his purpose on his 20th birthday.
Meet Alex Dekker of ‘Alex Makes Meals’, feeding international students in Melbourne (during Lockdown 2.0) and also in Sydney.
The pandemic has brought the entire human race to its knees, weaving its web across every industry and bringing a halt to student lives, especially international students. Let’s step back to January 2020, before the pandemic. Then, the 19-year-old Dekker was a student, the smallest of three siblings originally from a Dutch family living in Gembrook.
A Monash student studying international relations and chemistry, he was on a funded trip as part of his global studies scholarship. He was given four options: Italy, India, China and Malaysia. So, in January, he was on his way to IIT-Bombay, Mumbai for his Social Development Scholarship for a month.
He describes his time in Mumbai as one of his most enduring experiences. Dekker loved it so much that he extended his stay for a further three weeks to hike around the Himalayas, describing it as one of the most profound experiences in his life. Experiencing a new love for SRK and Bollywood movies was short-lived, as COVID-19 was fast becoming the new norm for 2020 when he came home.
COVID-19 has changed life for everyone including Dekker, but something else came knocking on his door – an opportunity for a hero in the making. In March, “Alex Makes Meals” was born with Alex Dekker turning 20.
Amidst the first Australian lockdown, Dekker’s sister, being a doctor at the Monash Medical Centre, was tirelessly working up to 14 hours a day and living on trail mix or muesli bars. So, he made lasagne boxes for his sister and dropped them on her doorstep. Dekker started an innocent Facebook post for orders that got an overwhelming 200 responses. He had two choices that day: give up entirely or forge ahead bravely.
The next day 200 turned to 400, and he was inundated with donations; there was an outcry, as Dekker says to me with his hearty laughter. I was laughing with him at this point. Three days after he started, he moved out of his tiny kitchen to a kitchen donated by Tinka’s Emporium. Then two weeks later they moved to Hardware club in Melbourne CBD. They have since moved into a larger kitchen in Preston.
“Sharukh Khan, Mumbai, yellow dhal and the ranges of Himalayan mountains are [a] few of my favourite things. The kindness is the new change in the air and that’s the dynamics of India … my Hindi is little rusty … I am in love with India” – Alex Dekker
That was during the first lockdown. Now, COVID-19 has caused Lockdown 2.0 in Melbourne. Alex Makes Meals is now operating from the Jewish Centre in Bondi with the Toyota project engineering people as sponsors. They still continue to operate out of the Preston kitchen, the Bondi operations are an addition to that.
His kitchen is a melting pot for highly skilled, diverse volunteers and chefs. Indian chefs from Kolkatta give their time preparing curries for a menu that covers anything from lasagne to creamy pasta to kidney bean curry. The quality is important, and the menu is prepared by voluntary chefs.
The Indian community is an integral part of his communal kitchen. Dekker has 80 active volunteers, and most of his volunteers are transitional. He is preparing 3000–6000 meals weekly.
Alex Makes Meals is now distributing meals every Thursday in Melbourne CBD to thousands of students stranded without jobs and mounting pressure with bills. Dekker says a lot of Indian students are his regulars.
At this point, I ask what food is to him. He says fighting hunger is yesterday’s problem – the majority of the time, people are starving themselves and the only thing that can change is a plate of food to help an individual.
As for the 20-year-old Alex – who sparkles every time he narrates SRK and his love for yellow dhal to me – I am saving a hug for him in the distant future.
Humanity knows no boundaries and heroes have no age – just patience and courage. The rest automatically falls into place for them. All I can think of Rabindranath Tagore: “Be brave right through and leave for the unknown.”
To DONATE, please visit Alex Makes Meals on Instagram and Facebook.
By Nandita Chakraborty
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