In 2017, when orthodontist Dr Issa Fathima Jasmine created a community fridge to prevent food wastage. Thus, Ayyamittu Unn, which translates to 'share the food with the needy before you eat', was conceived in Besant Nagar and Elliot Beach of Chennai. The fridges are stocked with food collected from hotels, wedding hall owners, and corporate companies, and anyone is allowed to take food from the fridges without any identification or registration.
With the second wave of the lockdown making many states go into lockdown, in an exclusive conversation with The Logical Indian, Jasmine shared how her organisation was adapting its strategy to ensure food was distributed to the needy.
How many food packets does the organisation distribute every day?
We distribute around 1000 food packets every day free of cost to the marginalised communities and the destitute in Chennai.
Who are your beneficiaries?
Our beneficiaries include daily wage workers, migrant workers, children, Therikoothu temple artists who've lost their livelihood due to the lockdown and Karagattam and Bommalattam theatre artists as well.
Is there any difference in your work from last year?
Not really; it's exactly the same, except there's more community involvement. Last year, we hired professional chefs to cook the food. But this time, we roped in housewives to help us out. So now we could see husbands and children cutting vegetables and cooking the food. One of the kitchens is conducted by a hearing-impaired family. The volunteers purchase the vegetables and other goods, and themselves cook the food.
How do your beneficiaries respond when you give them the packets?
They're actually relieved that they'll be eating at least one meal a day. Some of them eat only half the packet and save the rest for later. We also give them an egg and a water bottle because the last time we distributed food, they told us, "we don't want food, we want water."
How have the authorities reacted to the distribution during the lockdown?
They have been very cooperative. The local police officers even help us with food distribution.
Apart from Chennai, where else does the organisation provide food?
We also distribute rice in the district of Dharmapuri and Kodaikanal, as well as supply groceries to a blind orchestra that plays in the temples of Dharmapuri.
What is your plan if the lockdown continues for a longer duration?
The food fridges were the best medium to ensure food for the needy. With the food parcels, we've had to rotate volunteers, such as give them leave for 2-3 days. We haven't found a permanent solution, but we're working on it.