From the deluge to the cyclone, these groups script new chapters in service

These groups were formed to help those hit by the 2015 Chennai floods, and they have continued to step up to the plate whenever a calamity has loomed on the horizon

November 28, 2020 11:16 pm | Updated November 30, 2020 09:54 am IST

NDRF personnel rescue stranded residents from Varadharajapuram in West Tambaram.  Photo: S. R. Raghunathan

NDRF personnel rescue stranded residents from Varadharajapuram in West Tambaram. Photo: S. R. Raghunathan

Creating awareness

They first started as a Facebook group called ‘Tamil Nadu Flood Support’ in 2015 focusing on disaster management and then diversified to take up various forms of service.

“In fact, we became a group during the November 2015 rains. Anand Vaidhyanathan was stuck in Chennai and could not head back to Bengaluru as all major roads were flooded. That is when he started the Facebook page that soon became a source of great support,” says Dilip Srinivasan, an architect and a volunteer with the Facebook group, which has more than 60,000 members. Dilip met Anand at a relief camp, and he has been supporting the group’s initiatives undertaken during any calamity.

A year after the 2015 floods, they renamed themselves “The New Face of Society”. Kerala floods and the Gaja cyclone were a few other disasters that they got them to regroup to carry out relief work — and most recently, they did so for cyclone Nivar.

“During Nivar, we helped out by taking the right information to remote corners where people did not have the means to get the latest updates about the cyclone. This was possible because of the work we had done over the last five years and the good volunteer base and built in various districts,” says Dilip.

The group also created awareness among farmers about filling in the details in the insurance documents.

“The Agriculture Department had issued a notification and we made its contents known to various groups working for farmers,” says Dilip.


Supporting Saidapet

For Sneha Mohandoss, founder, Food Bank India, Cyclone Nivar has a slight shade of the 2015 Chennai floods. She based this observation that had to be done during field visits around Saidapet, an area the non-profit has been working in.

Well before the cyclone struck, Sneha and team knocked at many houses in Saidapet and asked them to move to the shelters set up by the Greater Chennai Corporation. “Those living on pavements and near the Adyar bridge were among the people we concentrated on,” says Sneha.

The Facebook group, started in 2015, takes up food drives, including collecting excess food from events to feed the hungry.

“We seek donations only in kind,” says Sneha, adding that people can donate groceries and blankets. She says Food Bank does not keep increasing its strength of volunteers. “All that we are seeking to do is feed someone in need around your locality,” says Sneha.


Running a kitchen

Thanks to support extended by many volunteer groups, a kitchen at Pattabhiram in Avadi serves food to hundreds of families in Chengalpattu, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram that have been displaced due to Cyclone Nivar. Most of these volunteers have either worked together during the 2015 Chennai floods or are part of a support group.

Grow Your Own Veggies Trust, a group started to promote organic farming, is one of them. “These are people living seven to eight miles from the coast. Displaced or without work, they have lost their main source of income,” says Alladi Mahadevan from the Trust, who takes care of the relief work at Chengalpattu villages. As per their estimates, close to 3,000 families need food in Chengalpattu villages.

Also read: From 2015 December floods to Nivar, these hands have stayed on the deck

On November 26, food prepared in the central kitchen was sent to feed more than 1000 families. The volunteers plan to continue feeding the families for a few more days as the Met department has predicted heavy rain in the days to come.

Apart from donations from many well-wishers, Restore, an organic store, is supporting the cause with its produce.

How has the group evolved?

Parthasarathy V.M., another volunteer, says working during calamities have made them network and plan better.

“We evaluate every request. We make sure someone else from the network has not been reached, to avoid duplication. For example, when we have a request somebody in the network goes to the field to find out the actual requirement before we process it,” says Parthasarathy.


Feeding the poor

Volunteers of Feed of Love are busier than the usual. Led by Johnson and his wife Shareen Johnson, the group feeds the the hungry and the homeless.

“We have been distributing food packets for breakfast, lunch and dinner to the homeless and those affected by cyclone Nivar. Many are also in need of clothes including jackets, sweaters, socks, mats and tarpaulin sheets,” says Johnson. Started in 2014, the non-profit extends support to the homeless on a regular basis. They were also active during the 2015 Chennai flood and the Cyclone Vardah in 2016. On a regular basis, they distribute food packets to 100 people in areas like Velachery, Guindy, Saidapet, Alandur, Tambaram, Vadapalani, Kodambakkam and Koyambedu.

Feed of Love is also looking for volunteers. For details, contact Johnson at 89394 62648.

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