‘Ayyamittu Unn’: This Chennai community fridge is feeding the hungry on the streets

The fridge is open to all every day from 7am to 9pm, and there is also a security guard to make sure things are safe. Alongside the refrigerator, one would also find a shelf, where people can donate anything from books to clothes, but they all should be in usable condition.

Written by Shreya Das | New Delhi | Published: August 28, 2017 10:15:32 pm

Dr Issa Fathima Jasmine along with the community fridge recently installed in Chennai’s Besant Nagar. (Source: The Public Foundation)

The big crisis of starvation is one of India’s major concerns. There are thousands of people who go to bed every night without a single meal. Though there are government schemes and projects to ensure that food reaches the needy, a lot more needs to be done, and each community plays – and could play – a big role.

Concerned by those going hungry on the streets of Chennai, a doctor is doing her bit to try and ensure they find food in a dignified way. Dr Issa Fathima Jasmine recently installed a community fridge outside the Besant Nagar Tennis Club, and it has been helping hundreds of people. Explaining why she started the project, Dr Jasmine told indianexpress.com, “We all have some amount of food left over every day at our homes that get wasted. Initially, I used to give it to a lady sitting outside our home. I soon realised there must be others like her who would be benefited by the food.”

“I often wanted to donate to others but shied away from asking, thinking it might embarrass them. Many might be needy, but they would not require food,” the orthodontist added over the telephone. So, to provide a simple and dignified solution where people can come and take food without out being judged or questioned, she started “the fridge”, funding it from her own pocket. Under the banner of The Public Foundation, Dr Jasmine called the community fridge, ‘Ayyamittu Unn’. In case, you are wondering what it means, it is a one-line poem from the collection Āathichoodi, written by Avvaiyar in Tamil. In English, it translates to “share the food with the needy before you eat”. A beautiful and apt title indeed.

People have been donating not just food but also clothes, book and toys. From curd rice to water bottles and fruits, the fridge is stocked by people regualrly. (Source: The Public Foundation)

People are asked to label their food before donating and there is a logbook that keeps a track of every item put in the fridge — from fruits to cooked items. People are also required to write the preparation and expiry date of the items they are donating. The fridge is open to all every day from 7am to 9pm. Initially, the doctor thought it would be better to leave it unmanned as many might feel shy but later for security reasons and to ensure the logbook is maintained she has also recruited a security guard.

Alongside the refrigerator, one would also find a shelf, where people can donate anything from books to clothes, but they all should be in usable condition. “I have always donated clothes and often I would come across friends and family complaining about old clothes. Though I used to donate them periodically for flood camps during an emergency or to orphanages, I realised this would be a great way to merge the two things,” she said.

The project, which was started on August 20, has received an “amazing response” and Dr Jasmine is quite “overwhelmed” with the positive response; “Many people have been calling to ask how can they donate, a few people have also called from overseas to make donations.” Though, as of now, she hasn’t accepted any monetary help from others, she is hopeful that with the kind of response she’s been getting, they can expand the project to other parts of the city soon.

People have been flocking to the community fridge to stock up its shelves regularly and many people now look forward to it every day.

The community fridge initiative has been growing in the country and after one woman started it in Kochi, last year, scores have come up in cities like Bengaluru, Jaipur, Mumbai and Gurgaon.

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