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Mumbai Messiahs: How young volunteers are helping the needy during the coronavirus crisis

India Today logo India Today 18-05-2020 Raya Ghosh

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The hapless state of the poor and destitute in India in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic is a tragic story. People are dying of hunger. Migrant workers are walking across states to reach home. In short, it is a dismal sight as the nationwide lockdown, imposed to contain the spread of the new virus, has come at a heavy price.

Also watch: Massive quarantine facility in Maharashtra’s Goregaon (Video by The Times of India)

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There is no doubt about the fact that the grim reality of the state of the country at the moment is disturbing. But, in the midst of such a catastrophe, Maharashtra has been blessed enough to find its messiah in a group of young volunteers, who are going from soup to nuts to ensure that the needy are catered to.

This group of young volunteers in Mumbai launched an initiative called Khaana Chahiye on March 29 to serve food to the poor and needy amid the nationwide lockdown. Over the past 50 days, team Khaana Chahiye has distributed 22 lakh meals to people across the Maharashtra capital and will continue to do so till India is under lockdown irrespective of the continuous extensions.

Ruben Mascarenhas, one of the co-founders of Khaana Chahiye, discussed the aim of the initiative during an interview with IndiaToday.in.

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"When the lockdown was announced at first, we got a lot of information about people going hungry. Economic activities came to a grinding halt while the poor and the homeless were the worst affected due to the lockdown. So, we started off with 1200 meals on the Western Express Highway and expanded to other routes such as the Eastern Express Highway, Link Road and SV Road in Mumbai," Ruben Mascarenhas told IndiaToday.in.

Maharashtra is the worst hit state in India with over 33,000 novel coronavirus cases and 1,198 deaths.

Speaking of Khaana Chahiye, Ruben added that the initiative is an "attempt to create a crowd-sourced hunger map for Mumbai and marry that demand with the supply across unused restaurant kitchens."

HOW DOES KHAANA CHAHIYE WORK?

Khaana Chahiye involves a network of kitchens with unused capacity. Co-founders Neeti Goyal and Pranav Rungta, who are restaurateurs, spoke to several restaurant kitchens, which provide food at minimal cost to the organisation.

Cooked food is thereafter distributed to the needy by Food Ninjas or volunteers. "To bring the cost down, we bought pulses and rice from Sangli and sourced vegetables from farmers directly. We faced several challenges in the meantime as well. Sanitisation, for example. Also, we constantly motivate the staff, who stay in the restaurant. They cannot travel home and feel upset at times. But they really cooperated with us," Neeti Goyal said. She owns five restaurants in Mumbai and their kitchens have been put to use for the Khaana Chahiye initiative as well.

WHAT DO THE FOOD PACKETS CONTAIN?

The food packets provided to the people are of 400gms and contain several items such as roti, sabzi, veg pulao, dal, khichdi as well as dal rice. The menu is diverse while Sundays call for special meals such as Pav Bhaji.

CLUSTER IDENTIFICATION

Several clusters have been identified across Mumbai such as the Thakkar Bappa Colony in Kurla, RA Colony as well as the slums in Malwani. "We don't go to clusters. We give it to a person and she distributes it to the residents," Ruben said, adding that food-relief points have been introduced for migrant workers at transit points in Mumbai such as the Mumbai-Bengaluru highway, Mumbai-Surat highway and the Mumbai-Nashik highway.

SERVING FOOD TO PEOPLE ON TRAINS

Khaana Chahiye has "adopted" three railway stations in the Maharashtra capital - Kurla, Bandra and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. "The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) allocates approximately 9-12 trains to us every day. We serve water, biscuits and food to people travelling on these trains which travel through these stations," Ruben added.

GHAR BHEJO CAMPAIGN

Apart from Khaana Chahiye, a Ghar Bhejo campaign for migrant workers has been introduced by the volunteers as well. The project, helmed by Neeti Goyal, organises buses to send migrant workers home. So far, ten buses have been sent to Karnataka, three to Uttar Pradesh and five to Ranchi. "We have sent 680 people home and hope to send 100 more in the next two weeks. 15 buses are leaving for Kerala on Thursday," Neeti said.

Khaana Chahiye, also co-founded by Anik Gadia, Swaraj Shetty and Pathik Muni, is a citizen-led movement in partnership with Shishir Joshi's Project Mumbai and Advocate Rakesh Singh's Bharat Utthan Sangh.

Follow the government's latest guidance on safeguarding yourself during the coronavirus pandemic, including travel advice within and outside the country. The World Health Organization has also busted some myths surrounding coronavirus. The Ministry of Health's special helpline is available at +91-11-23978046, ncov2019@gmail.com and ncov2019@gov.in.


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