Chef Vikas Khanna, who has distributed 25 million meals across India amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is now planning to provide essential rations and supplies to 10 million street vendors and their families hit by the pandemic.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the 48-year-old Michelin-star chef and author has coordinated a massive food distribution drive from his home in Manhattan.
"We are securing ration and are planning about 10 million meals around the country for street vendors, who actually hold the true heritage of Indian food in their hands," Khanna told PTI.
Khanna said that he was moved by the plight of street vendors, whose source of income and livelihood has been severely impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.
"Street vendors have been among the most important thread of society and provide food to millions of daily labourers. They have uplifted each other through the years. That is the power of street vendors. My next mission is to help these street vendors," he said.
"The street vendors are hopeful that once restrictions are lifted and the crisis is over, their businesses can resume. They are just hanging by a thread. The pandemic is an unprecedented crisis and it is far from over. But we cannot give up," he added.
With the help of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the renowned chef has distributed rations, meals and essential supplies to a number of orphanages, old-age homes, leprosy centers, widow ashrams, Mumbai's Dabbawalas, boatmen and craftsmen in Varanasi, and to migrant workers and hundreds of thousands of people in need across over 135 cities in India.
"As per our list, we have crossed 135 cities, but there are many villages whose names we are unaware of. So, the actual number would be much bigger," Khanna was quoted as saying by The Times Of India.
Close to 50 leading brands, public and private organisations, as well as individuals, have partnered with Khanna in his 'Feed India' initiative. Khanna said that he hopes more people and companies will join his efforts to help the street vendors.
"It is important to stay positive in these difficult times but it it also good to help out right now. This is the true moment where individual strength is displayed. We are all holding hands and we can actually make this work. It is time for the country to come together," Khanna said.
Meanwhile, Khanna reached the milestone of having distributed 25 million meals across India amid the pandemic on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan on Monday, August 3. The star chef dedicated the milestone to India's legendary artist Lata Mangeshkar. He added that his mother listened to Mangeshkar's songs on the radio after working long hours, running and managing banquets in Amritsar.
"Today on Raksha Bandhan, we crossed 25 Million Meals across India in 4 months. I dedicate this moment to our National Treasure, LATA DIDI. My bond with her and family is very special. She is my spiritual sister, guide and someone whom I look up to. She blesses me with her voice when I research, train, write, cook, serve or create new art in isolation," Khanna wrote on Instagram.
Meanwhile, Khanna is also working on providing two million meals, food, clothes, essential supplies like mosquito repellents, candles and matches to people in flood-ravaged areas of Bihar and Assam. Over 55 lakh people have been affected by floods in both the states and has claimed the lives of many.
Khanna will be conducting food drives in nearly 100 villages in Bihar and Assam, to feed the people in the flood-affected regions, particularly in the remote areas.
"There are a lot of challenges to support relief in flooded areas of Bihar & Assam (especially the remote ones). But I pledge 2 million+ meals in the affected areas. We will do best to our ability," Khanna had tweeted.
"We are working 24/7 to reach out to more people to #FeedIndia. Working on #FloodRelief and we continue to distribute rations in Old-Age homes, orphanages & Leprosy centers. Working on securing rations for Street Vendors & families in 20 cities w commitment of 10 Million Meals," he said in another tweet.
Furthermore, on Raksha Bandhan, Khanna also distributed around three million sanitary pads to women across the country.
"Accessing hygienic sanitary napkins is the right of every woman. It is the festival of Raksha Bandhan and I wanted to ensure that my movement meant something special for my sisters across the country. It is a blessing to be able to do something for them today," Khanna told the media.
On successful completion of distributing around three million sanitary pads, Khanna tweeted, "Today on the auspicious day of #RakshaBandhan I am proud to say that we crossed distribution of almost 3 Million Sanitary Pads around India. @NiineIndia Thank you @PayalTulsiyan for being my spiritual sister on this mission."
Recalling his decision behind distributing sanitary pads, the chef said, "One day, we were distributing food near Varanasi, when a lady asked one of the distributors if it is possible for us to send them hygiene kits as well. So, we started distributing hygiene kits, too; it was all in the spur of the moment."
"Then, somebody told us that there is a huge demand for sanitary pads. The person knew some women who made sanitary pads on the outskirts of Varanasi. So, we contacted them and tied up with them, as it would also help them earn livelihood. That's how it all started," he added.
Meanwhile, Khanna said that that criticising governments or foundations for their response to the crisis "is an absolutely wrong way to look at it right now because these are very unpredictable circumstances. Nobody knows how to deal with it."
"These crises are not crises which can be managed by NGOs and governments alone. The crisis is a testimony of the human grit. At this time of severe crisis, we need individuals who can share a little from what they have," he added.Also Read: Sonu Sood Turns Saviour, Again! Actor Offers Job To Hyderabad Techie Selling Vegetables Amid Pandemic