‘Couldn’t Watch My People Sleep on Empty Stomachs’: Teacher Feeds Over 2 Lakh Poor

Bihar's Roti Bank distributes free meals to the poor.

Ravi Shankar from Bihar couldn't stand to see his people sleep on an empty stomach. Here's how he started the Roti Bank in Chhapra with his friends.

One of the foremost challenges faced by the poorest of the poor in our country is poverty which leads to hunger. There are several organisations and individuals who, in their own small ways, are helping people fight hunger and malnutrition. One such group that has taken a unique initiative to address the issue calls itself the ‘Roti Bank’

On 10 October 2018, Ravi Shankar, a teacher by profession, along with four of his close friends – Satyendra Kumar, Abhay Pandey, Ram Janam Manjhi, and Bipin Bihari, inspired by All India Roti Bank, Varanasi, decided to celebrate Dussehra by distributing home-cooked meals to seven people. They had to travel nearly 3 km to distribute the food. Since then, every night at 9 pm, the team goes out to feed the poor.  Today, this initiative has been established as a non-profit organisation, which has 20 members. 

Reflecting on the source of inspiration, Ravi says, “There are several people in Chhapra who sleep on an empty stomach every night. I often felt helpless when I saw hungry and poor sleeping and living at railway stations, bus stands and on the streets. I saw a ray of hope when I watched a video on the work done by All India Roti Bank, Varanasi on Facebook. The video showed how the youth in Varanasi were providing food to the needy during the cold winter months. This motivated me to start a Roti Bank in Chhapra along with my friends.”

The initiative has thus far distributed 2,16,000 free meals in the last four years, impacting over 2 lakh lives.

To start a food bank

Hunger and poverty have been sprawling in the state of Bihar for many years now. A 2020 report also quotes NITI Aayog’s report on Sustainable Development Goals 2019, which clearly shows how the worst performer of the ‘zero hunger goal’ was Bihar including a few other states with its score falling from 2018’s 48 to 38 in 2019. Even at the global level, India ranked 101 out of 116 countries according to the Global Hunger Index report for the year 2021. To address this growing hunger, organisations such as Roti Bank both in Chhapra and Varanasi are working at the local level.

Abhay Pandey, the General Secretary of Roti Bank, Chhapra and a Railway Traffic Inspector by profession while expressing his contribution to the cause, says, “I devote two days a week to Roti Bank. It gives immense satisfaction to support those in need. It feels like a huge achievement when you satisfy someone’s hunger.” Talking about the inception of the organisation, Abhay mentions how he motivated his friend to work towards his dream. “One day when Ravi and I were going to a party, he shared how he wants to open an organisation to provide food to the destitute. Encouraging him, I ensured him of my complete support. We began by distributing seven packets of food, today it goes up to 200 packets.”

In the beginning, most people were not supportive of their initiative. Gradually, looking at their work, they realised the organisation’s role to help the marginalised and eventually, more people started to join. While some donated their labour, several others donated food and money. Locals were also motivated by the slogan – ‘Khushiyon Ke Rang Roti Bank Ke Sang’, which made them donate food to the poor on their birthdays, wedding anniversaries, or on any auspicious occasions through Roti Bank, Chhapra.

Earlier, the members carried food from their homes now they have their own kitchen named ‘Maa Annapurna Community Kitchen’. Two people have been hired as a cook at minimal wages.

This kitchen plays an even more important role during times of distress. During the COVID-19 lockdown, along with ration and food distribution, the team also arranged food for all the migrants. “During the lockdown, we distributed food at Rajendra Stadium, Chhapra. All the buses that came from different states halted in this stadium. The entire crowd created a ruckus to get hold of food. Meanwhile, we met a boy who seemed to have come from a well-to-do family. When we approached him and offered him food, he refused to take it as he had no money to pay even though he was hungry. Our team told him that he can have the food and in return, feed someone later. Only then he ate the food,” mentions Abhay.

Distributing food to the poor during the lockdown in Bihar.
Distributing food to the poor during the lockdown in Bihar.

Even during the Bihar floods last year, the organisation had stepped forward to support communities. First, the team conducted a survey, identified the vulnerable areas and based on their finding, delivered food packets. Each food packet contained 4 kg of rice, 2 kg of ‘Faroohi’, a big packet of biscuits, snacks, milk powder for babies, and soap. Despite the great difficulty of reaching people during floods, the team never deviated from their path. With the help of vehicles and other means, they ensured they reached people in every corner and delivered food. 

They carried out their work with complete honesty and are continuously trying to reduce hunger and poverty among the people, who were most affected by Covid-19 and then the floods. This local organisation, which started as a dream of one person, has today become a hope for many! 

Roti Bank Chhapra aims to continue its service and dreams of reaching more people as they grow, despite everyday challenges. As Ravi believes, “The Mantra of success is to never stop and keep going. No matter how hard the situation is, you must never retreat.”

The team members of Roti Bank Chhapra
The team members of Roti Bank Chhapra

Charkha Features; written by Archana Kishore; Edited by Yoshita Rao

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