For 12 days now, migrant workers boarding the Railways’ special Shramik trains from major stations have been handed a cooked meal, a snack, a bottle of water and, in some cases, soap or hand sanitiser and a face mask, thanks to a civil society initiative that started with providing food to the neediest communities during the lockdown and is now also reaching out to those boarding trains and buses home.
Since May 13, when they began with providing packed meals to passengers on board six or seven trains, they have clocked more than one lakh meals in total for those boarding the trains alone. In addition, the initiative is also serving those boarding buses from Thane’s Majiwade junction.
Last Wednesday, volunteers of the initiative served 25 trains of the 35 in total that departed from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Bandra Terminus, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and Borivali.
“It started when food and hospitality entrepreneur Niti Goel of Fraaser Kitchens, also co-founder of khaanachahiye.com, had a conversation with a migrant walking a few hundred kilometres to head home,” said Anil Gadia, a businessman, who is now handling finances for Khaanachahiye.com. “We continued the conversation among us and realised that the poor, who are headed home, need support too.”
While motley crews of do-gooders provide a few hundred bottles of water or packs of roasted gram in smaller numbers outside various stations, Khaanachahiye has liaised with the police and the Railways to make sure every passenger boarding the trains allotted to the group is provided a meal for the journey home.
Khaanachahiye.com, started by Project Mumbai, social activist Ruben Mascarenhas and cybersecurity expert Pathik Muni on March 29, has been supplying an average of 70,000 meals every day to Mumbai’s poor communities, using the expertise of professional kitchens to prepare and package the food and the goodwill of volunteers to raise money and handle logistics. Their volunteers belong to the food industry, non-governmental organisations, housing societies, big corporates, start-ups, and more.
“We started with six or seven Shramik trains on May 13 after the Railways gave us permission. In total, we have provided meals to passengers on about 75 trains now,” Muni said.
The main meal is from Fraaser Kitchens, Dinesh Caterers and Charris Hospitalities. A bottle of water was provided from the start. In addition, a dry snack, such as mathri, was added from Wednesday onwards. “Also, we add a pack of wafers or biscuits whenever we get it from donors,” Muni said.
Paras Soni, who works with a payments gateway technology company, spends most days at one of the stations. “I arrive at 8 am, coordinate with the kitchens, the transporter, the water bottle supplier and the Railways,” he said. Train schedules can be erratic, and high-volume items, such as water bottles, need to be ferried into stations multiple times a day. The team sets up the items before the queue of verified passengers enters the station, ensuring distribution is orderly.
Swaraj Shetty, a technology and communications professional on a sabbatical, said the initiative is looking for more support and volunteers, and hopes to sustain the effort until the end of the lockdown.
Already, Khaanachahiye has served communities along the Eastern and Western Express Highways, Link Road as well as labour camps in Masjid Bunder, Malad, Chembur and Govandi. They are now reaching out to communities along the Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg.
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