— Khaana Chahiye
For millions of people in India, the same lockdown that is protecting them from the pandemic has put an end to their work and income, leaving them to face an intensifying dire crisis: hunger. The need to respond to growing hunger is critical and Mumbai-based non-profit Khaana Chahiye Foundation is doing life-changing humanitarian work. Founded as a relief effort during the lockdown with a pilot of 1,200 meals on Western Express Highway, Mumbai by Ruben Mascarenhas, Rakesh Singh, Swaraj Shetty, Anik Gadia, Neeti Goel, Shishir Joshi and Pathik Muni, it is now powered by two hundred+ volunteers in partnership with The Citizen Collective, Litmus Test Project, Project Mumbai and Bharat Utthan Sangh. In conversation with the core team to understand the enormity of their initiative.
"Khaana Chahiye", a citizen-led movement that evolved into a non-profit, has served innumerable meals and ration kits to migrants and slum dwellers in and around Mumbai. Please do share how it took shape.
Ruben Mascarenhas, Co-founder and Director, Khaana Chahiye Foundation: As the lockdown was announced on 24 March 2020, the daily wage industry was the first to experience its effects. I contacted a few friends and packed 500 cooked meals to distribute among homeless clusters under the Western Express Highway. Soon, we began getting SOS calls from other suburbs, and eventually, the city. Within a week, we mobilised a number of dedicated residents who were keen to contribute, like Neeti Goel, Adv Rakesh Singh, Swaraj Shetty, Anik Gadia and Shishir Joshi. We called it "Khaana Chahiye" as it can be interpreted in several ways — as a question [Khaana Chahiye?] or a request [Khaana Chahiye]. It resonated with the situation on ground where many were not able to afford the necessities for survival as their wages were on hold. From a dedicated bunch, we grew into a citizen-led movement within weeks. Over 250 volunteers joined our ground operations ensuring meals are packed, delivered and distributed on time. We used the unutilized kitchen capacity of closed restaurants located across the city so we could reach out to over eighty per cent of Mumbai. As the migrant crisis worsened in May, we aided the BMC to serve meals on 285 Shramik Express trains at Bandra Terminus, Kurla and CSMT stations. We served 5,00,000 migrants aboard the trains and 1,00,000 on the road at our transit operations in Thane, Panvel and Dahisar Check Naka. We extended our support to thirty institutions like orphanages, old age homes, hospitals, LGBTQ+ support groups, mental health institutions and prisons. Our experience was extremely crucial to develop a functional crisis-management infrastructure in Mumbai. We proposed the Hunger Map Project — a collaborative policy intervention with the BMC, University of Mumbai and Kautilya School of Public Policy, Hyderabad. And then registered as a non-profit in November 2020 to formally conduct this project. Since, we have been mapping Mumbai's most vulnerable clusters, which helped us to re-start our relief operation in 2021 as we received regular intel from our volunteers.
I've been fascinated by your clarity of purpose i.e. The Hunger Map Project, that identifies critical pockets in the city which require urgent relief. How do you come up with methodology?
Karthikeyan, Quantitative Vertical, Hunger Map Project, Khaana Chahiye Foundation: "Khaana Chahiye" is an organization that was born as an initiative to feed as many people fighting hunger as we possibly could. Like any movement, we started small with over a thousand meals a day and grew to more than 100,000 meals a day. As of date, we have served over six million meals to those in need The two pillars of strength on which we have scaled are our volunteers and technology. After the first lockdown, we learnt lessons about hunger and its impact on the most underprivileged. The most important among those was the need to identify those in need of food and geo-locate them so we could establish permanent pipelines of food supply and other support. The hunger map is a solution in this direction. The data that we have collected has not only helped our operations but has also been used by the Government and other organisations to identify underprivileged pockets. This mapping, when combined with the benefits of analytics, is helping us create a support ecosystem beyond food support, for marginalised communities like the homeless. We intend to expand this program soon to other geographies under various models to create a nationwide support system so that no one goes hungry.
You have a huge research team from different walks of life. Do share how you work in tandem to ensure each pocket of Mumbai, as evidenced by your posts, is well-fed? What areas are you covering i.e. slums, highways?
Mithila Naik-Satam, Working Committee, Khaana Chahiye Foundation: Every volunteer of "Khaana Chahiye" had a scrupulous yet humble mission laced with a sense with a duty — to deliver meals to the poor and working-class individuals who were bearing a disproportionate share of the pain. Through lockdown 2020, we mapped the hunger pockets of Mumbai, validated the beneficiaries and charted this demand to the nearest kitchen activated by us. This being a citizen-led campaign, we had 250+ volunteers and over fifty local points of contacts, who've ensured the last mile delivery. This year we have started three community kitchens to cater to the slum clusters identified. We are catering to homeless beneficiaries identified along the arterial roads of the city, ie. Western Express Highway, Eastern Express Highway, SV Road, Linking Road and LBS Marg. And the slum clusters at Nehru Nagar Juhu, Ambedkar Nagar, Mariamma Nagar Mahalaxmi, Kamathipura, Malvani, Mankhurd Govandi, Thakkar Bappa Colony Kurla, Indira Nagar, Panjrapole Chembur, Mahul transit camp, Qureshi Nagar Kurla. In addition, we are also covering orphanages, old-age homes and LGBTQ+ support groups.
At what point did you begin enlisting volunteers from diverse walks like IT, finance, marketing, students and chefs? How did the team put their divergent skill sets to work to create a war room to fight hunger?
Mazher Ramzanali, Head, Volunteer Management, Khaana Chahiye Foundation: Volunteers are Khaana Chahiye's lifeline! Intent and ideas are great but work needs to get done. Identifying hunger pockets in the city, making the food and delivering the perishable calories. We've had a strong volunteer network from day one. We needed someone to motivate excited do-gooders, we needed doctors to explain protocol, we needed IT professionals to build the website and work the systems, run communication and the socials, look after the accounting and financials. We are volunteer-driven, except for two full-time employees. We have also set up a Volunteer Management and On-boarding team. It's not perfect but we're trying to get everyone involved.
How is the Hunger Map Project conceptualised to achieve goals listed in the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals? How did you sync your initiatives in line with their goals?
Neeraj Shetye, Lead, Public Policy Research and Program Management, Khaana Chahiye Foundation: The goals listed in the UNSDGs cover all major areas of livelihoods from poverty alleviation to building collaborative efforts in achieving it. Khaana Chahiye Foundation is focused on two of the seventeen goals: Ensuring Zero Hunger and Building Collaborations. Both goals form the basis of our movement. Our vision during the ongoing crisis is to eliminate hunger and come up with sustainable long-term solutions. The Hunger Map Project is proposed as a policy intervention to achieve these objectives. In the early stages of the project, we were nominated for various SDG awards for our work and we realized there is no dedicated organization in India that is working towards eliminating hunger through effective policy solutions. Most are engaged in relief-based social work. Our on-ground experience taught us something crucial — none of the SDGs can be achieved solo. All are interconnected and require a collaborative approach. It has to be among various stakeholders — the communities, civil society organisations involved in social work, academia, local government and private corporations. We are conceptualising the Hunger Map Project on similar lines with our partner organisations, academic partner, corporate donors and Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation. It would have an interdisciplinary approach in tackling some critical problems that the social sector has been facing in India.
At what point did it scale up to the magnitude where it requires participation from the civil society in sync with the local government infrastructure?
Aishwarya Pandit, Grocery Operations, Khaana Chahiye Foundation: We started this initiative to cater to the homeless and then we reached out to people who were left out of the Public Distribution System (ration). We started distributing cooked meals as an emergency measure. The operation started with five hundred meals and scaled up to thirty nine thousand meals a day. Now we are replacing meals with ration kits to make the system more efficient. This was similar to our operation last year when things scaled up quickly. We started with twelve hundred meals and went up to 91,000 meals a day. It was made possible because of our ground partners and volunteers who relentlessly dedicated their time to our operations. Khaana Chahiye has been aiding BMC's outreach to vulnerable communities across Mumbai too. We are working on the Hunger Map Project as a way to come up with sustainable solutions to hunger. Many of our partners are grassroots organisations who have been working in communities across the city, since years. They have built a level of trust with the beneficiaries which helps us in the Hunger Map Project. We are grateful for their support and we will continue to build this ecosystem.
Crowd funding is a way for citizens to contribute towards Covid-19 relief initiatives. How can one contribute to Khaana Chahiye or enlist as a volunteer?
Savio Joseph, Outreach and Partnerships, Khaana Chahiye Foundation: Since day one, our outreach has been crowdsourced — we're running the main fundraiser campaign to which you can contribute (bit.ly/donate2kc). Over the last couple of months, parallel campaigns by various individuals and groups are being run — we've had Chef Thomas sell desi granola, Liverpool Official Fan Club tapping into their fan base, bakers running micro fundraisers for specific interventions like our Community Kitchen vertical. If you align with our objective to help Mumbai fight hunger, you can get in touch and we can set up micro-campaigns. You can also help with reporting hunger through a form so we can reach out to them (http://bit.ly/KCReportHunger); if you are in the city, come volunteer with us on the ground or if you are based elsewhere, volunteer remotely ( http://bit.ly/volunteer4kc). Our entire organization is volunteer-driven and we always need help! Join us.
Would you be restricting this initiative to Mumbai or are there plans to scale it up to other cities?
Swaraj Shetty, Co-founder and Director, Khaana Chahiye Foundation: In lockdown 2021, we expanded our reach beyond Mumbai, to the entire greater Mumbai region. We are sharing meals and groceries in Thane and Navi-Mumbai and groceries to tribal villages within 150-km radius of Mumbai. Expanding to different cities is a challenge but we have worked out a coalition where we are in touch with grassroots initiatives in Pune, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad and we support each other. That's how we plan to grow — by collaborating. That's how Khaana Chahiye works and it's what helped transform a relief operation into a citizen-led movement with 250+ volunteers joining in from all walks of life. It's a summation of collective citizens' efforts trying to solve one of the many complex developmental problems we have.