A tiffin service that serves a special ‘social story’

Packing tiffin boxes in progress. Photo:  Meeta Ahlawat

Packing tiffin boxes in progress. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

Her husband hasn’t spoken to her in three months, but Neetu hopes he will come around. After all, she says, working with Lunchbox 17, a tiffin delivery service in South Delhi, has completely changed her attitude.

The social enterprise was launched in May by youth-run NGO Swechha and employs women from Jagdamba Camp, a slum near the organisation’s Khirki Extension offices. The initiative aims to provide employment, and eventually empowerment, to the women, and clean and tasty food to young professionals and students in the area.

Lunchbox 17 has given Neetu her first job at age 32, one that has caused some friction in her marriage. “My husband thinks it’s not right that I’m out working. But, I was getting so bored at home and working here has made me so much more confident. Earlier, I wouldn’t talk at all in public,” says the mother of six.

Her transformation has been made possible by Lunchbox 17, and enterprise training programmes run by Swechha from March to July. The NGO’s executive director, Vimlendu Jha, says though Lunchbox 17 “it’s not a real business”, it’s already served around 1,000 people.

“We have a no-investment, jugaad kitchen, but we are sending out 120 tiffins everyday. This is women’s empowerment around a real need in the city for inexpensive and hygienic food,” says Mr. Jha.

The service has picked up customers through word of mouth and social media. From a daily bulk order of 40 tiffins from a factory in Okhla to professionals too tired to cook after work, the customers all get a fixed menu of rice, rotis, lentils and vegetables.

Some days, like on Monday, the bulk order includes kheer for dessert. On Fridays, customers are offered a non-vegetarian dish as well. Earlier this month, pre-paid coupons were added as a payment option and in July, dinner deliveries were started for Malviya Nagar residents only.

A meal costs between Rs.80 to Rs.100, depending on the distance the Lunchbox 17 electric bikes have to travel. A team of three women and four men takes orders, prepares the meals, packs them in steel containers and delivers them at the customer’s doorstep.

Starting 8:30 a.m., the roof-top kitchen is a blur of activity till the first batch of tiffins starts going out at 11:30. One of the women, Pushpavati, drops off her children to school before reaching the kitchen. She cites the experience with Lunchbox 17 as giving her a shot of confidence. Though they get salaries, it’s not just about the money for the women.

“The other women in the neighbourhood ask me how I’ve become so smart and how I can go about on my own. All that has happened after I started working here. Now, I’m not scared to talk to anyone,” says Pushpavati, an Uttar Pradesh native.

Mr. Jha says Lunchbox 17 is a “baby-step towards making the women in the community financially empowered using a skill they already know”.

At the end of the day, says Mr. Jha, the success of the initiative depends on the product on offer. “Eating is not a charitable activity, the food has to be delicious along with having a social story,” he says.

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Printable version | Aug 18, 2022 4:45:07 pm |