The New Year is likely to bring smiles on the faces of many homeless and destitute people in Maharashtra. From Mumbai’s famed dabbawalas to social organisations in Aurangabad and Akola, quite a few people in Maharashtra are taking the lead to open “Roti Banks” to feed the poor and hungry. The initiative has been received so well in Mumbai that the dabbawalas have started to find it difficult to cater to the rising philanthropy. They have now called on social organisations to help collect and distribute food with the help of digital media.
“Every single day, we get flooded with calls. Some wish to donate leftovers from their parties, some from their weddings, while some want to pack off the excess food in their houses,” said Dashrath Kedari, a dabbawala. Now, various caterers from Mumbai have also pledged their support to this initiative. So have wedding planners.
“I have pledged that I will back this initiative with as much as I can do. I will try and convince the bride and bridegroom to donate the leftover food from their wedding to the poor through this initiative,” Rushikesh Kadam told The Sunday Guardian. Kadam is the convenor of Pavitravivaha. The wedding, which he arranged, became the first wedding in Mumbai to donate food.
“Marriage is a multi-million-rupee industry. Even if a portion of the caterers and marriage planners support the initiative, so many hungry people will be fed,” he said.
In Mumbai, the dabbawalas collect food from the donors and distribute it to the beggars around the railway stations. The areas of distribution are the ones which they pass by while delivering their lunchboxes. “The response has been tremendous. A few days ago, an airline company called up to say that they had packed food boxes left from their office party. Household people, party organisers and hosts, hotels have been calling up to ask if we can collect food,” said Subhash Talekar, spokesperson for Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust.
At present, only five of the 600 dabbawalas have volunteered for the non-profit work. “We do it as a social commitment. We don’t earn anything out of it. We do it beyond our duty hours. The working hours by themselves are quite gruelling. So, not each dabbawala can volunteer for this. Our primary commitment is towards our job which is the delivery of lunchboxes,” he added.
The few dabbawalas who have volunteered have been inspired by another Roti Bank initiative over 300 km away in arid Marathwada. It was started by Yusuf Mukati, a 38-year-old property dealer by profession. Yusuf started a training centre for women a year ago. “My social service during these years made me think of a Roti Bank. We started it a month ago. Since then, I have been getting calls from various people in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka to help them start such a Roti Bank in their districts,” he told The Sunday Guardian.
Mukati has employed two men who work at the reception counter to collect and distribute food. The method used by Mukati is that of enrolment of members. “Only those persons and families who enrol themselves as members are allowed to donate food. The conditions are that the food should not be stale and it should be delivered at the Roti Bank counter,” he said. This saves him the cost and infrastructure on collection of food. Also, the fact that the centre is situated at the central location of Jinsi-Baijipura Road, makes collection and dropping of food convenient for everyone. Enrolment of members ensures a steady and regular supply of food, which makes the Roti Bank highly dependable.
“All those who approach the Roti Bank for food, get food packets. Priority is given to children, women, old and ailing persons,” Mukati said. Once, when the centre did not have enough food, Mukati said he ordered a nearby restaurant to make some rice dish to feed the hungry.
To aid him, three autorickshaw drivers ply in different directions to collect leftover food from weddings and other social events. The instruction to the supporters and members is that they should donate at least two chapatis and a vegetable.
“We don’t want anyone to go to bed on an empty stomach,” he said. He runs Haroon Mukati Islamic Centre at the location. The institute offers 15 free courses to young Muslim girls which help them gain skills for self-employment.