Mumbai: While many in Mumbai gather and celebrate New Year’s Eve with huge gatherings, the city’s famous dabbawallas, or lunch box carriers, will be on a mission. They will collect the leftovers from parties, restaurants and hotels and distribute it to the more than 5,000 people around the city who often go without food.
While the dabbawallas are known for their prowess on cycles, they have some help — thanks to former noted Mumbai police commissioner D Sivanandhan; non-resident Indian Nitin Khanapurkar; and Sweta Mangal, social entrepreneur, who runs MUrgency; who together form Roti Bank — in the form of a GPS-tracked van to collect and distribute food faster.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, “India has a serious hunger problem and ranks 100 out of 119 countries on the global hunger index.”
It was this ranking in the hunger list that prompted Sivanandhan to give back to society through this plan. “I was also impressed by the work done by a Tamil Nadu NGO [non-government organisation] No Food Waste in Coimbatore, my hometown, Salem, Tiruchi, and other places,” he told Gulf News. “They gave me a lot of inputs in running such an NGO. We also plan to get two more vehicles in a month or two. Future plans are to spread across this megapolis, Navi Mumbai and in Pune and Nagpur where I worked as a police commissioner.” The Roti Bank has also provided stainless steel utensils to carry the food; plastic bags were used earlier.
He added that a website of the NGO provides plenty of information to donors.
For those involved in this altruistic endeavour, it is a simple concept with a simple solution. As a food rescue organisation, freshly prepared food is picked from regulated food businesses and delivered safely to the hungry.
Subhash Talekar, grandson of Gangaram Talekar, who founded the dabbawalla’s profession 125 years ago, said: “Collecting surplus food from households, parties, weddings and restaurants has been our social commitment for the last two years with 200 dabbawallas cycling around, after work, from 6-8pm, to collect food and distributing it between 8-9pm in every locality of Mumbai familiar to our dabbawallas.”
About 5,000 dabbawallas pickup home-cooked food and deliver it to office-goers every day.
For the initiative, the van is a big help, he says, since “we can collect larger amounts of food from bigger hotels and restaurants and distribute to a larger section of people.” A driver and assistant are employed by the Mumbai Roti Bank to help distribution. “We get around 250 calls daily to collect food that [is] distributed to people in South Mumbai, especially near Tata Memorial Hospital and KEM Hospital,” says Mangal referring to a 24X7 helpline, run by her firm.
Talekar adds, “At Tata Hospital, relatives of patients come from all parts of the country and do not have the means to travel up and down to their native towns for various treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. Therefore, they stay put outside the hospital managing to live with their meagre savings. That is when our food distribution helps them immensely.”