When community refrigerators in Chennai help the hungry eat with dignity

December 05, 2023 10:58 pm | Updated December 06, 2023 12:21 pm IST - CHENNAI

The community fridge at Besant Nagar in Chennai. It also has space for wearable clothes, stationery items, utensils, and dolls that can be used by others.

The community fridge at Besant Nagar in Chennai. It also has space for wearable clothes, stationery items, utensils, and dolls that can be used by others. | Photo Credit: M. Karunakaran

The 2004 tsunami brought about so many changes in people. For Issa Fathima Jasmine, an orthodontist and social activist, it was when the idea to add an additional side to her community food refrigerators came.

“Later on, I was just coming up with the idea of these refrigerators where members of the public could place extra food that was in good condition since I had the habit of sharing whatever I didn’t require. I remember that during the tsunami, people had lost everything. So, I decided to add an extra side to the fridges where people can place wearable clothes, stationery items, utensils, dolls, and anything that they don’t want but can be used by others,” said Dr. Fathima.

Started in August 2017, Ayyamittu Unn now has 13 community refrigerators in Chennai, two in Bengaluru, and one in Vellore. So far, they have shared over four lakh food packets. “The idea was to share food with the hungry in a dignified manner.”

Eight-page manual

“We have an eight-page manual that is followed strictly by the project coordinators. Since we are dealing with food, a perishable commodity, we ensure quality. When I started the initiative, I was afraid whether it would be safe to share food. But the community members who come in understand the importance of ensuring quality. We have seen that many of the contributors are women,” she explains.

Only vegetarian food is allowed. People can also place fruits and vegetables. All the refrigerators are installed only after due approval from the local bodies. If the food brought by someone is not good, the security guards should not accept it.

The security guard at the community fridge at Kandanchavadi says anyone who is hungry is welcome to collect food. He maintains a register for people to enter what kind of food that they bring in to share. The fridge is to be cleaned twice a day and the food must be properly packed, he says.

Community kitchens

The target for the community refrigerators, according to Dr. Fathima, is that they remain functional at the locations they are installed. “Our aim is not just to expand them to more locations.” With the city hit by floods, her team of volunteers are busy opening community kitchens. “We do this every time there is a need,” she says.

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