A restaurateur recently decided that there is a bit more to life than minting money, so he started a FOOD ATM for the poor
This hotelier is not overtly ambitious, soft spoken, humble yet quite articulate. Especially, not one who would like to blow his own trumpet. Like any businessman, he has quietly been endeavouring to spread the reach of his business.
It is during one such exercise recently that an idea struck him and he thought he could very much make a small beginning. Without much fuss, he got his staff going and rolled down a unique project the City of Joy will be proud of a food ATM for the city’s hungry millions.
Excess food at home or in a restaurant which routinely finds a place in the dustbins or is strewn around the lanes and bylanes of the city will henceforth find a new home – in the refrigerator of this young entrepreneur’s humble restaurant “Sanjha Chulha”.
Meet Asif Ahmed, owner of a restaurant chain in Park Circus in southern Calcutta, who has gifted the city its maiden food outlet for the deprived with a simple slogan – donate your excess food. Believe it or not, Ahmed has since then been flooded with phone calls.
Congratulatory words? Yes, of course, but that is not all. It was something more Ahmed could hardly expect. The City of Joy has bared its heart! The callers have largely been bombarding Ahmed with one simple query “We’ve stock of excess food, but how do we send it before it becomes stale? Please send your man as early as possible.” Ahmed’s joy knew no bounds and he is more than grateful for this spontaneous outpouring from people around the city.
“I couldn’t believe that I’ll be overwhelmed with this kind of a response; not only from the city, people are calling me from neighbouring Howrah and outskirts to donate their food. Unfortunately, I am hamstrung by a dearth of staff and vehicles,” regrets Ahmed who is at the moment, least prepared to handle this wave of gestures from people.
Ahmed, who has four outlets of his restaurant chain, initially started the facility at Park Circus and Gariahat, both posh locations in the south, equipping each with large freezers.
“It was a small beginning on the 15th August, but became an instant hit, with people just driving in their cars with packets of food. Very soon, our freezer had no place to store anymore, even though it is quite big,” says Surya Kanta Halder, one of Ahmed’s managers at Park Circus.
What about the response from those for whom the project has been launched? “Oh, it’s simply electrifying,” was Halder’s instant reply without the least hesitation. “I’ve not seen the kind of smiles in my life; feeding the hungry, I believe, has now become part of my life and I must say I am grateful to my boss for revealing this aspect of life to me.”
Halder has made it a point to work extra hours, if required, to help and organise food packets for distribution without asking for overtime charges. Currently, packets for breakfast, lunch and dinner are served as long as the stock lasts; stocks naturally run dry very soon. And since the food ATM works on a first-come first-served basis and the freezer is on display for everyone to have a clear look at it, Halder and his men never have to offer any excuse to any `food seeker’ about their inability to fill his or her tummy when the stock is exhausted.
But aren’t there issues that might draw the ire of people for serving leftovers from the plates of customers or packets being sent from homes to those hungry and the have-nots? “Of course, we’ve taken this aspect into consideration,” explained Ahmed, who has already instructed his staff in the four outlets to request customers in advance to keep aside a portion (their choice) of the food served in separate plates to beat the controversy.
“And I’m sure people who are trooping in from various locations of the city to donate their excess food, must have kept this human aspect in their minds. After all, it’s a noble cause for which we’re offering this humble service to the suffering humanity and that’s why we’re simply flooded with food packets of various sizes containing various items,” Ahmed said.
In order to be transparent in the entire process, Ahmed has installed a camera and a monitor on top of the refrigerator and is toying with the idea of live-streaming the availability of food and storage space. The aim is to avoid harassment of the donor who might be disappointed upon reaching the outlet only to find that there is no space to store his food. Anticipating that the tide of the hungry will eventually be in the morning, Ahmed has tentatively kept the timing of the food donation between 12 at noon and 11 pm.
Aren’t some of the NGOs of the city extending their helping hand to Ahmed? “ Inspired by the success of our endeavour, Rotary International, Round Table and Jain International Trade Organisation (JITO) have got in touch with us and promised to provide us with food packets for 15 months, to begin with,” disclosed Ahmed. And he is also expecting fund donations to launch a fleet of cars to further beef up and expand the network to the northern side of the city and fringe areas.
What’s the future? “This is just a tiny sapling which I’ve planted on earth; I want to see it grow into a full-fledged tree with active assistance and participation of people around us. Till then, hamari koshis jari rahegi,” Ahmed exuded.
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