Have a heart!

While the pandemic has revealed some ugly truths about our society, it has also, happily, given us a glimpse of the good that exists.
Last Updated : 13 June 2020, 20:26 IST

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Not too long ago, a virus scare sprang out of the blue and things were never the same again. As much as we would not like this to be the opening line of the story, the truth is, this line sums up our reality.

The novel Coronavirus has brought our lives — irrespective of our geographical location — to a screeching halt. ‘An act of kindness, no matter how small, is never wasted’, goes an old proverb; a proverb that rings very true as the world grapples with the pandemic. Migrant workers and daily-wage labourers have been suddenly left without their jobs and their meagre savings having dried up, many fear if the virus does not kill them, hunger certainly will. While it is perhaps not possible for individuals and organisations to mitigate the suffering of all, many are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure food reaches some at least. These charitable initiatives are often not by big corporations; they are enterprising efforts by ordinary folks, local organisations and small-time restaurateurs. In trying times like these, such heartening initiatives go a long way in reinstilling our faith in humanity.

A kind hustle

“The conditions we came across were terrible. The idea was to recognise stranded labourers in slums in and around Indiranagar and daily-wage workers who had panicked amidst this lockdown,” says Arjun Shhetty, Founder, Better Than Foods Pvt. Ltd, speaking about a campaign he has been running since March 29. “We worked closely with the government officials and the local police station. Our effort was to feed as many people per day as we could and we have been actively doing that. There were labourers abandoned by contractors on the very site where they were working. The contractors hadn’t reached out to them and since they are daily-wage workers, they had absolutely no one to turn to. They had spent two-three days on an average without a single meal. Some of them don’t even speak the local language and found it hard to communicate with others. We also fed the stray dogs and cows that were roaming around, starving. We identified cows owned by farmers who were unable to provide feed to them.”

Call to action

Shhetty’s initiative has, till now, managed to serve over 50,000 meals and he gives a large part of the credit to his friends.

“All thanks to my friends Pradeep Satyamurthy, Rahul Dham and Sunil Menon who helped me along the way. We have been able to serve a decent number in Bangalore. I am also an active member of the Round Table India and we raised funds for the initiative through Bangalore North Round Table 25 as well.”

Explaining how things got streamlined after the first couple of weeks, he adds, “funds also came in from family and other business groups. Multiple social groups reached out to us after we posted about the initiative on WhatsApp and Facebook groups. We followed an extremely transparent format. Each meal cost us Rs 25. We stuck to providing cooked food as these people did not even have access to basic ingredients such as salt, water and gas to cook their meals.”

Get your basics right

Arjun Shhetty has some advice for those looking for motivation to start such efforts. “It’s important to understand what the purpose of the whole initiative is. If the purpose drives you, you have the motivation right there. As for us, we knew we had a restaurant in Indiranagar headed by my friend Rahul Dham where we could cook meals in large volumes. We had the bandwidth, but we needed to identify the locations to serve.”

A similar effort was also organised by entrepreneur Ravikant, Founder of Elegance Enterprises.

“I’d like to call our Covid contribution as teamwork; we haven’t really thought of it as a food drive,” avers Ravikant, adding, “the team decided to tend to the daily supply needs of over 100 families staying in the Bannerghatta Road area of Bangalore and Hinjewadi, Pune. The focus has been to offer a continual supply of rice, flour and other staples till things return to normal and they begin to get paid again.” When prodded upon the social media reach — if any — Ravikant says it was a conscious move to keep it low-key.

“No, this is a private effort and not active anywhere else except in the hearts of every member of the Elegance family. The only thing that drove us was a deep desire to reach out to those in need. The awareness to do so came in the form of a distress call of one labourer who told us that he needs help to support his family. That one call was like an alarm bell that woke us up to the reality of the difficulties that scores of people were facing.”

Laugh to serve

Altruism with a touch of creativity is never a bad idea, and that’s exactly how ‘We Laugh To Serve’, a charitable initiative, came about. “We collaborated with an upcoming comedian, Dhiren Raghu, Atria Foundation and The Akshaya Patra Foundation to run a unique campaign to explore alternative career paths during the lockdown and raise funds to sponsor over 500 meals to those in need!” shares Azaan Sait, chief happiness officer and founder at The Hub, Bengaluru. “As a start-up that works with many upcoming creators and active youngsters who want to engage with their community, we saw ourselves in a unique position to connect creators with passionate millennials — who are social distancing, but still want to contribute and feel like they can help. We wanted to create an experience where creators can actively engage with viewers and have a dialogue, where viewers could make a real-world impact simply by commenting through vegetable emojis to drive engagement and raise funds for people who need food during this crisis.”

Husband-wife team

“I had stepped out of my apartment gate to throw rubbish, when I noticed a middle-aged man shuffling through the garbage to look for food to eat. He told us he depended on the leftover food from hotels (which were closed), and hence, wasn’t able to find anything much to eat. We fed him our first meal that night. Things took their own course and we decided to feed slum-dwellers, homeless and daily wagers during the lockdown for as long as we could,” begins wellness consultant Shashi Kalyanpur, who rustled up wholesome square meals with his wife Seema and has served over 11,000 meals so far, all prepared by his wife at home.

Despite no external support, the couple was determined to reach as many as they could — and relied on minimal online promotions.

“There was no separate campaign run for this, but only regular posts on our handles,” says Shashi adding, “for people who are willing to start an initiative like this, our only message is to take action and start as small as possible with whatever resources you have and how many ever you can help. The initiative will pick up
momentum as you feed, one by one.”

Unsurprisingly, the verdict is out: Big doors swing on small hinges. If you’re on the lookout for ways to contribute, charitable campaigns are just that one step away. After all, it is never too late to make a difference.

Conjuring up some goodness

Real issues require real heroes — with invisible capes and an altruistic heart! Chef Vikas Khanna, one such real hero, decided to rustle up a solution that brought food to scores of migrant workers stranded across the country. His initiative has reportedly distributed over a million packets of dry food and cooked meals over the past month in more than 100 cities in India. And, he didn’t stop at that. Khanna decided to do his bit on the eve of Eid and had his team roll out feast kits for more than two lakh people in Mumbai, with rice, lentils, flour, fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, spices, sugar, pasta, oil and dried fruit.

According to reliable sources, the Indian Michelin-starred Chef’s relief effort now feeds around 2,75,000 people each day, and he’s in no mood to stop anytime soon. He had a rocky start though! Things were far from smooth sailing for Khanna, who’s initial tryst with charity went awry. As per a media report, his first attempt to deliver food to an elder-care home near Bengaluru went kaput as a phony middleman fled the scene with 2,000 pounds of rice and nearly 900 pounds of lentils.

The Khichdi project

The Khichdi Project is a crowdfunded campaign in Mumbai that has been up and running since March 30. True to its title, the campaign serves up piping-hot khichdi. Taking us through the initiative, Sanjay Zazirani, CMD, Foodlink says, “we are specifically preparing khichdi, because it is a complete meal that provides energy over an extended period of time and is easy to digest. The vegetables in the khichdi provide extra nutrition and fibre. Also, it is easy to serve as well as eat. As an occasional variation, we provide vada pav.”

The Khichdi Project supplies food to the organisations that are working at the grassroot level, which essentially take care of the distribution. Incidentally, the khichdi is also being supplied to police stations from Sion to Navi Mumbai and from Deonar to Mulund — for all Naka Bandi duty staff and at police stations and other posts that are monitoring red zones. “We have crossed eight lakh meals and we hope to sustain the project till it is necessary to do so. We have garnered support with crowd funding and are always open to donations and support,” adds Sanjay.

Published 13 June 2020, 20:25 IST

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