If you have been following the news closely, you may have read about how the lockdown has been particularly hard on migrant workers and the underprivileged. While many of us have the comfort of homes and the finances to maintain a well-stocked pantry, others aren’t as fortunate. Thankfully, there are some who have been going out of their way to ensure that the needy do not go hungry. One such person is Dhruv Arya, an entrepreneur based in Guwahati, who is the owner and head of operations at Makhan Bhog, a family-run restaurant that started its operations in 2005.
His initiative named, ‘Helping Hearts,’ began on 26 March. On the first day, he fed about 300 people. But now, with over 70 people supporting the cause, about 4000 people are fed in a day, and he hopes to continue feeding people as long as he can.
“I am not sure how long it is going to take for the economy to stabilise and for these people to get on their feet. So, I am going to continue with this food drive for as long as possible,” says the 26-year-old.
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Lending a Helping Hand
The seed for carrying out this philanthropic activity was planted in Dhruv’s mind by his uncle, Mr Sanwar Kanoria.
“When I heard about the lockdown, I knew that people from underprivileged sections are going to be the worst hit. I had a chat with my uncle, who lives in Mumbai, and he pushed me to start feeding as many people as we can. In fact, he has been getting food cooked at his home and feeds about 250 people every day,” says Dhruv.
Dhruv’s uncle decided to sponsor half the funds required for the activity. Help also came in from Business Network International (BNI), a business networking organisation that Dhruv is part of.
“I shared my plans with the members and about 70 people donated for the cause. We ended up raising about Rs 12 lakh, and that is currently helping us carry out the operations,” informs Dhruv.
But before everything began, he knew that he had to take permission from the police so that the vehicles could move smoothly without any hiccups. He then mapped out the areas in Guwahati where the where the poorest of the poor live, including the Railway station, Solapara Colony and Bhutnath locality.
“Daily wage earners like rickshaw walas, vegetable sellers, sweepers (among others) mostly live in these pockets. These people do not have enough savings and depend on everyday work to sustain themselves. Since the lockdown has hit them the hardest, we started distributing food packets here,” informs Dhruv.
The food packets contain khichdi, which has vegetables like beans and carrots, and puri halwa. All of this is separately packed so that if a person cannot finish it all at once, they can save it for later or share it with their family members.
All the food is prepared at Makhan Bhog’s kitchen, where about 35 staff members are on the payroll.
I ask Dhruv if it was difficult to convince the staff to come and work. “Not at all. As soon as we told them, they were more than happy to do their bit. I was overwhelmed by their willingness to help out,” he replies.
The food is cooked from 7 AM-10 AM. By noon, it’s all packed, and two vehicles are being used to deliver these food packets. By 4 PM, they are done with all the preparations while the staff starts prepping for the next day.
Dhruv mentions that the staff follows stringent checks and safety measures in the kitchen.
“Before they enter the kitchen, they sanitise their hands and their forearms and wear a mask, caps and hairnets. In fact, one of our kitchens is located within a housing complex we have provided for our staff, which makes it even safer. They have been self-isolating since the lockdown, and only the vehicle goes to pick up the food packets at the entrance. No one is allowed to enter,” he says.
Challenges and looking forward
Dhruv informs that he sometimes goes for the operations on the ground while at other times, volunteers from BNI accompany the vans.
So, has he faced any challenges until now?
“I think the biggest challenge for us is managing the crowds. They don’t understand the concept of social distancing. When they are hungry, they tend to gather in a crowd. However, to deal with this, two police escorts ensure that the people maintain distance from each other,” he says.
So, what does Dhruv plan to do for the next few days?
He says that he would continue feeding 4000 people every day and is not taking any donations right now. “The whole idea is to ensure that whoever we feed, we can feed them for longer. Currently, with the staff we have, we cannot overwork them as we need them to work with us for longer,” he says.
He informs that one thing he’s observed in Guwahati is that a lot of places are not delivering food to homes. There are several people who may be living alone or do not have access to groceries, so he also wishes to cater to them in the future.
Dhruv also has a special appeal for restaurant owners.
“When we started, we felt lucky to have the apparatus and the resources to feed so many people. My only appeal to restaurant owners and hoteliers would be that it would be great if they can provide their set up to carry out such operations if they are not doing it themselves. It may not mean much for you to hand over a packet to someone in need, but for them, it may be the only hot meal they eat that day,” he says, signing off.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)