Society

How community refrigerators ensure that everyone has a morsel to share

The community fridge project launched by Don Bosco Institutions in Navi Mumbai recently. Photo: Special Arrangement/THE HINDU  

In over a year of COVID-19 lockdowns, the disruption of logistics and transport has brought to fore the importance of voluntary organisations — their role in preventing food wastage and ensuring the supply of meals to disadvantaged sections of society.

“India has more food than it actually needs. Waste happens not only in the conception, but also the production side. Though as lay people we may not have the power to create policies to change the system, we can surely do better to reduce food wastage on a personal level,” says Dr Issa Fathima Jasmine, managing trustee, The Public Foundation (TPF) in Chennai.

The non-Governmental organisation has been helping to redistribute surplus cooked food among the destitute in Chennai since 2017.

Its signature project ‘Ayyamittu Unn’ (inspired by a line from the Aathichoodi that translates to ‘share food with the needy before you eat’) maintains eight community refrigerators in Chennai and two in Bengaluru, that are stocked with freshly cooked food, bottled non-alcoholic beverages and packaged snacks, and are kept open for underprivileged people.

Since the lockdown was declared in March last year, TPF has been one among many voluntary organisations that has been functioning in the State capital to ensure the smooth supply of food among those in need, with the approval of the Greater Chennai Corporation.

A community fridge run by The Public Foundation under its ‘Ayyamittu Unn’ programme in Chennai. Photo: Special Arrangement/THE HINDU

A community fridge run by The Public Foundation under its ‘Ayyamittu Unn’ programme in Chennai. Photo: Special Arrangement/THE HINDU  

As part of its initial COVID response, TPF distributed 8,100 cooked meals and supplied ration kits to 5,000 families. “At first we shut down our fridges because we didn’t want to risk cross-contamination,” says Dr Issa, who balances her TPF duties with her profession as consultant orthodontist. “But we started getting requests within the first few days of the closure, so we had no other alternative than to reopen them.”

To make up for the absence of food donations, the TPF team started cooking meals to be packed and left in the community fridges. “Some of our volunteers, mostly homemakers, who used to cook and provide 10 meals daily, offered to increase their contribution to a hundred or more packs per day as long as we took care of the transport and distribution, so that was a big help,” says Dr. Issa.

Reaching out

In Mumbai, Don Bosco Institutions (DBI) administered by the Salesians (a Catholic religious congregation) have reached out to at least 25,000 low-income people, and migrant workers who lost their livelihood due to the lockdown since last year.

DBI inaugurated a community fridge on its premises in Seawoods, Nerul, Navi Mumbai in January 2021, to alleviate hunger in the neighbourhood.

“As the situation improved, and labourers began returning to Mumbai, we were looking after not just migrants, but also the disabled, homeless and elderly people who needed support. That’s why we decided to introduce the fridge, to help people feed themselves and their children. We allow people to take whatever they want, and how much ever they want,” says Father Barnabe D’Souza, rector, and one of the key officials behind the project, in a telephone interview.

Instituted in collaboration with the NGO Team Spreading Smiles (TSS), the project combines altruism with practicality.

“Any community service requires constant attention and follow-up to be successful,” says Fr Barnabe. “This is not just about placing a fridge in a low-income area, but about studying the actual needs of the community there. Due to a lack of monitoring, many community refrigerators in our city are lying empty. Some people here insist on getting money rather than food, because they have become used to handouts, but we are trying to change this mindset,” he adds.

After noticing that the fridge’s meal packs were being thrown away because they were too cold to be eaten directly, the team has added a small electric tabletop grill that enables people to heat the food before they consume it. “We have specified 9 am to 7.30 pm as the working hours for the fridge, and this covers quite a few people in the neighbourhood, besides maintaining security,” says Fr Barnabe.

Waste not, want not

It is a paradox of the modern age, that even though we have become more efficient at producing food than our ancestors, we have also become notorious for wasting huge quantities of it.

The Food Waste Index Report 2021 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), released earlier this month , says that 930 million tonnes of food was binned globally in 2019, of which 61% came from households, 26% from food service and 13% from retail.

In India, the UNEP study says that 68,760,163 tonnes, or 50 kilograms of food per capita per year is thrown away.

“A lot of this wastage can be prevented if we respect our food and remember that every grain is a symbol of divine grace,” says Dr. Issa. “The extra food that you have is not yours, it is someone else’s. Learn to share it.”

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 9:01:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/community-fridges-help-to-alleviate-hunger-in-times-of-need/article34191318.ece

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