The year 2020, ascertained a rift in the world with the prevalence of social and physical distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It not only battered the rudimentary system of our society based on community bonds but also resulted in an alienated society more than ever.
In these testing times, #foodforchennai is the epitome of community service. Lata Dubay, Suresh Jumani, and Anisha Chugh collectively with over 200 volunteers have been aiding COVID-19 positive patients and families quarantined at home. This drive of theirs ensures that all the patients receive hot and purely vegetarian homecooked food free of cost at home.
In conversation with The Logical Indian, Suresh Jumani recounts the details of this benevolent drive.
"It started with a lady named Lata Dubay. I have not met her to date." shares Jumani.
Jumani came across Lata Dubay's acts of kindness in cooking around 45 meals a day and serving the needy, through a mutual friend's post. He was inspired and immediately connected with her through Social media. Post call with her, he realized the severity of the matter and the trouble of delivering the food.
Dubay had been sending free food to Ambattur to a patient with delivering dunzo charges worth 218 rupees. Noting that the food would get cold and bland by the time it reaches the people and the amount of money they have to pay with every request in such a condition, he suggested requesting a volunteer. Jumani, with 31 years of retail experience and contacts around every nook and cranny in Chennai, henceforth started this drive and reached out to many ailing people with the help of volunteers.
Highlighting the significance and troubles of ordering home-cooked food Jumani says, "At the end of the day, a person who is not well is going to order food three times a day and imagine he's paying so much only for delivery charges every time when their mindset is not good. If a person orders from nearby hotels he will have to request customization and it will be hard to coordinate things in such condition. The hotel will have mostly a commercial approach and is going to give everyone the same food equally to everyone. Finally, just keep the food at door and leave."
#foodforchennai is a group of people who implore other people in Chennai to volunteer for contributing towards the recovery of a patient. Interested volunteers are added to a Whatsapp group where they volunteer after viewing a series of messages of requests based on the location. The work is distributed according to the convenience of the volunteer for cooking meals around any time of the day. So, three volunteers can be responsible for a family and alternatively send meals as per their settlement.
Jumani explains, "We sometimes assign three members to coordinate with one family. If the request is for a week, three meals a day, and family of five, again pressure on one single volunteer would be high."
The first difficulty which roused from their services was of the distance. They had to use the means of dunzo to deliver food but long-distance could spoil the food coupled with high prices. In order to resolve this, the suitable distance from a volunteer to be assigned is 1.5 km and the maximum dunzo charges should be around 25-30 Rupees. The aim is to send a homely meal in 15 mins of packaging.
"Sometimes, it goes to 4-5 km and there is difficulty in assigning a volunteer in such situation. If three volunteers join hands together to support one family in the quarantine. An unknown person helping you out with food, three times a day and sends a get well soon card, it surely makes one happy." says Jumani.
He shares the team gets on a zoom meeting to discuss the events and progression of the day. "Food is better than medicines I'm recovering faster" was the message of one of the patients. "It's so humbling to hear this, at night when we get this feedback from volunteers. It's so nice to read it out," he adds.
The efforts which were started by two have now become an over 200 volunteer's endeavour. The collective has now been segregated into two groups, South Chennai and Central Chennai. Due to the influx of requests which are only based on areas. They have been receiving messages from all kinds of patients.
"I got a message from Lata Dubey that said, an 82-year-old lady had called up requesting food a few days back. Her husband had died two days ago and she was living all by herself. We get such requests so we make sure to reach out to them immediately and within five mins we assign one member."
The management and distribution of work were always not swift. "The first day we made a big blunder," remarks Jumani.
"We had asked people who requested food to pay for the dunzo charges." But this led to several complications and delays and the food would not reach them at the appropriate time.
Jumani states "Just for some money, people have to wait for food. Snap the idea of charging and make it free of cost. Lata Dubay had warned me that we will end up paying more. I said, it doesn't matter for all the trouble and waiting the patients have to do. Let's do Seva (Service)."
"So we requested our volunteers who can afford it, there is no compulsion. There are so many well-wishers who have come forward to wish us. Today God has blessed us with good health, and all the 200 volunteers are able to help."
Another challenge that came their way early with the prospect of packaging. "Today if you come forward to do something for society, naturally you would hesitate because you won't have food packaging material. It will be a challenge for you for a week to send food to five people. So, what we did was we went in to buy food packaging materials, we appointed four members to keep stocks at a place. A volunteer has to request the number of packaging required and they send it." says Jumani.
The packaging material to be provided to the volunteers is now hoarded at three stations in the city Kilpauk, T. Nagar, and Ayanavaram.
The work has fared well but there have been discrepancies. People reach out to them in the garb of ordering food for free. "People want free food. Many people are feeling lazy at home. Another day we got a call, a mother-in-law called and told me, my daughter-in-law is not well and has tested COVID-19 positive. She wanted to see the menu for herself, her son, and grandson."
"We were infuriated, she isn't calling a hotel and can't support her daughter-in-law who had cooked for them till now."
"We told her sorry ma'am, don't expect free food like this."
"In this world, this is nothing new, people are going to misuse you. We have to have a solid team just to verify, without this we can't go forward. We don't want the hard work of our volunteers to go to waste. When people ask such things we know they are just greedy and not needy."
The team has five people to verify the requests coming from all over the city. "We even check the COVID-19 report', we can't just blindly take the help of the volunteer's hard work," claims Jumani.
Jumani, upon asking about his motivation to participate in this cause mentioned his source of inspiration came from Radha Soami Satsang Beas. He is an ardent devout of his teachings and was encouraged to help several senior citizens who needed a helping hand.
#foodforchennai has been working successfully running this drive as a humanitarian cause. The entire team of volunteers has never met in person but regularly connects over a zoom call to derive happiness from their efforts and feedback they get. The community service they have been doing should be acclaimed.
As Jumani rightfully explains to The Logical Indian, "At the end of the day, no one is going to help mankind, a person who is staying near your area, is going to help. If you get a chance to help a neighbour, you should come forward."