A simple idea powered by social media is feeding the hungry in Bengaluru, one dabba at a time.
We see it every day. Around street corners, at traffic signals, peeping in through the gleaming windows of the mall, waiting hopefully outside crowded restaurants. Sometimes on the weathered face of an old man, sometimes on the dirt-streaked face of an orphan, sometimes in the eyes of a tired mother, desperate to feed her boney child. The haunted, lingering look of hunger.
A staggering 194 million people in India go hungry every day. One in every four children is malnourished, making the country home to one third of the world’s malnourished children. Close to 3,000 of these die every single day, due to diet related illnesses.
Yet, when these alarming statistics take on the face of those we encounter at every turn, we avoid eye contact, turn away, and look everywhere but at the person pleading for help.
One young software developer in Bengaluru, however, refused to turn away: Harshil Mittal.
His solution to the daunting and all-pervasive challenge of hunger is astoundingly simple: cooking a little extra food in every home.
Thanks to his initiative, underprivileged children and senior citizens across the city wait eagerly for the third Sunday of every month when they are treated to piping hot homemade food.
“Whenever we have a food drive all we do is ask our donors to cook a little extra food that day. The food is packed in the containers we provide them. Volunteers then pick up the food from their doorsteps, bring it to the distribution site and give it to the hungry children and elders there,” Harshil explains.
Harshil started his initiative in October 2015: “We started on a very small scale. Three of my friends, Rishiom, Selina, Ashutosh and I went door to door in our housing society, told residents about the concept and asked them whether they would be interested in participating,” he says.
“We were surprised to find that more than 90% of the people we approached were enthusiastic about the idea and were willing to participate. We collected the food and distributed it in Tilak Nagar. We fed about 40 people that day. It was our first drive.”
In the short span of six months, the concept has gained immense popularity.
Today, the group goes by the name Let’s Feed Bengaluru (LFB) and boasts of an extensive network of donors and 750 registered volunteers.
The growth of the group has also led to streamlining of processes to ensure that the food reaches the right people.
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“There are three categories of people we donate food to. First, the homeless and handicapped people we come across on the streets. Second, people staying in the economically weaker sections of the city and third, orphanages, old age homes and shelters,” Harshil says.
“Basically, wherever we feel people are in need of food and love.”
Before zeroing in on an area where the food drive should be conducted, members of the group visit the area and interact with its residents: “We spend a day with them, understand the kind of people they are, the kind of problems they are facing and whether a food drive will help them.”explains Harshil.
“We feel it is very important that we are able to reach out to the right people, the people who need us the most,” he says.
After choosing an area, the group harnesses the power of social media to reach out to donors and volunteers: “We put up an event on Facebook and interested volunteers and donors get in touch with us,” Harshil says.
The volunteers meet on the weekend before the drive to work out the logistics of the event and to collect and distribute the containers to food donors:
“We are willing to collect from any part of the city, provided there are volunteers in the area. We have covered at least 70% of the city,” says Harshil.
Donors are asked to donate freshly cooked, vegetarian homemade food: “We do not want to serve stale food and risk the health of the people,” he says.
The food is cooked and packed by the donors and collected by volunteers. It is then taken to the nearest distribution site.
Here, the food is distributed to children and elders, two vulnerable groups in every household: “Malnourishment among children is a serious issue. We wanted to address this. We also felt that elders in most families are looked upon as liabilities and are often neglected. We wanted them to know that someone cares for them, that someone is looking out for them.”
“After all, Let’s Feed Bengaluru is not just about food for the hungry but about spreading love and joy.”
Since most of their volunteers work full time jobs, the food drives are conducted on Sundays.
“We also wanted to drive home the point that everyone can do social work. People often have this impression that people who do social work spend their entire time doing only that, that they don’t have corporate jobs or that those who have jobs and families cannot take up social work. But that’s not true. Everyone can do it,” says Harshil. “Our volunteers spend about three to four hours a month on this. That’s how much time you would spend watching a movie. That’s it.”
The group is different from other social initiatives in that it is adamant in its refusal of monetary donations: “People feel that when you donate money you never know where the money is going, whether it is even reaching the right people or not. There is a certain amount of distrust. We didn’t want to get into that,” Harshil explains. “Here, you donate food, we pick it up straight from your house and deliver it straight to the beneficiaries.”
“Besides, giving money cannot compare to the joy and satisfaction you feel when you make food for someone who is hungry, or when you spend time with them, dance with them, laugh with them…” Harshil says.
In April, the group began conducting awareness campaigns: “We feel this is the right time to target the kids, to teach them about the importance of education, about good hygiene practices,” says Harshil.
The group is looking at expanding into skill development and education.
Its primary focus however will continue to be feeding the hungry: “We started this year with a target of serving 10,000 meals. We’ve already surpassed the target. Now we’re looking at 25,000 meals.”
With each drive the volunteer group conducts, the list of areas it caters to has only grown. Today, Let’s Feed Bengaluru has seven slums under its wings and hopes to soon cover many more.
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