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Dabbawalas turn heroes for hungry

THE ASIAN AGE. | NIRTIKA PANDITA
Published : Dec 26, 2017, 12:13 am IST
Updated : Dec 26, 2017, 12:15 am IST

Killing two birds with one stone, the city’s dabbawalas and an ex-cop have created a way to reuse the leftovers from dabbas to feed those in need.

The dabbawalas arrive with food that can feed 70 people
 The dabbawalas arrive with food that can feed 70 people

Every morning, if one were to walk down to a train station, they’d find  men sporting white cap, shouldering lunchboxes wrapped in cases, or rushing towards a train with a trolley-full of dabbas, balanced on their heads. These dabbawalas have become so much a part of the city’s fabric that one often overlooks their existence in the daily rush.

However, the financial capital of India holds the largest network of dabbawalas, whose daily routine involves delivering food from homes to offices. Each manages around 500 dabbas, with their days ending in bringing  back the empty tiffin boxes.

Seeing the potential in this section of the workforce, retired IPS officer D. Sivanandan pitched in with a vehicle to help the dabbawalas in their endeavour to feed the city’s populace. Eventually, however, the existence of the vehicle led to a whole other project — Mumbai Roti Bank.

“We have been distributing the leftovers from lunchboxes to poor people for the past two years on our own. But we didn’t have a vehicle to carry all the food. It was Sivanandan sir, who provided us with a car to make things easier for us. At the moment we have 200 dabbawals working on the initiative,” says Subhash Talekar, Mumbai dabbawala chief.

The brainchild of Sivanandan and his UK-based friend Nittin Khanapurkar, the aim of establishing Mumbai Roti Bank is to bridge the gap between people who are willing to donate food and those who are in need of food.

 As per a report published by International Food Policy Research Institute in 2017, India ranks at 100th position on the Global Hunger Index among 119 countries. “There are 190 million people who go without food each day in this country. Nittin and I felt the need to return our share to society. We wanted to deal with this issue separately. And, who better to help out with this initiative than dabbawalas, who come across leftovers in lunch boxes on a daily basis,” explains Sivanandan.

Thus far, these lunch deliverymen had been using plastic bags to deliver the leftover food to the needy. Now, thanks to the duo behind the Roti Bank, the food will be carried in stainless steel utensils

.  Food served to those in need by dabbawalasFood served to those in need by dabbawalas

“We have one vehicle, two more are to come. These vehicles will be installed with GPS and the driver, who is a dabbawala, is going to be provided with a cell phone. We also have disposable cutlery in the vehicle to serve people,” adds Sivanandan

The service, starting officially from today, is just a call away and will be available between South Mumbai to Dadar. Shweta Mangal, director of MUrgency, which is supporting Mumbai Roti Bank with 24x7 helpline numbers explains that the vehicles will be parked at Shivaji Park and the pickup time will be between 4 pm to 12 am.

“It is usually after lunch or dinner that people give away food. The minimum quantity has to be for 20 people to start with and we will not take any dairy products,” explains Shweta.

While the dabbawalas are well aware of the pockets to cater to, the bank also has a counsellor onboard who will help them in hunger mapping. “So far, we have identified places like Tata Memorial Hospital, KEM hospital, and Sion hospital as target areas to send food to,” says Sivanandan.

In the long run, Mumbai Roti Bank plans to tie-up with restaurants, hotels and target people having parties at home.

“As it is recent, you will see a lot of action happening in next few days. And we have also got many people coming forward wanting to donate more vehicles. But we want to take it a little slow for now,” Shweta signs off.

You can call 8655580001 or 9111891118, should you wish to give away food.

Tags: dabbawalas, gps, shivaji park