Providing food to the homeless, destitute and indigent families including migrant workers, hit hard by the Covid pandemic, through Project Rotary Rasoi has lifted the public image of RC Jamshedpur West, RID 3250, and its president Rajesh Kumar is thinking of expanding the number of push carts (thelas) so that “we can serve food to the needy people across the city through Rotary coupons,” he says.
In fact, on Feb 23 to mark the Rotary Day, DG Pratim Banerjee and spouse Suchinda launched the pilot project at two places — Chappan Bhog, Bistupur, and MTMH Cancer Hospital’s canteen. “Even before we flagged off five push carts, we sold out all the 500 coupons (₹30 each) to our members, their relatives and associates. Till now, 200 beneficiaries had exchanged the free coupons given to them by Rotarians, their friends at the nearby thelas to have food. Given the overwhelming response to Rotary Rasoi, we have added five more carts taking its number to 10 to serve more people,” explains Kumar.
A senior Rotarian, Dr Amit Mukherjee, circulated a WhatsApp video about a similar food distribution being carried out in a state where poor families were served from a mobile eatery. “Our members were excited seeing this video and at the virtual brainstorming sessions in January, we decided to take it up as a pilot project. To begin with, we tied up with five thela vendors, who will encash the food coupons they had collected from the beneficiaries on every Monday at our club,” he says.
Demand for more carts
A team of 6–8 Rotarians was involved in scouting for the food carts at the right places where there are good numbers of underprivileged families so “that our coupons are readily exchanged for food being sold by mobile vendors.” However, with complaints from Rotarians who had bought the coupons that they could not find the food carts and “beneficiaries are finding it tough to get it exchanged for food due to very limited number of thelas, I have added five more Rotary carts. But even the present 10 carts are not sufficient as there are a large number of homeless, roadside families and migrant workers in Jamshedpur.”
Now the club has printed 500 more coupons which are being sold to Rotarians. For the beneficiaries to identify the Rotary thelas, the club has put up prominent banners on them matching with the instructions on the coupon. Also, each food cart was chosen for its unique menu. “While one vendor provides South Indian menu including dosa, idli, upma and vada; another caterer delivers roti, subzi and parathas. Also, the canteen at the MTMH Cancer Hospital gives snacks, bread, omelette, chips, tea and other beverages for coupons,” says Kumar. The club is ready to print another lot of 500 coupons, as it will be adding five more Rasoi carts to expand its reach across the steel city.
Satyajeet Dey, a non-Rotarian and an enthusiastic promoter of Rotary Rasoi, has bought coupons from the club to distribute to labourers and daily wagers. “He sends us regular feedback and pictures of beneficiaries having food at the thelas,” he says. A 15-member team of the club oversees the project. Around 50 out of its 93 members have bought the coupons, and “others are waiting to buy it once we print more.”
Rajesh Kumar is keen to sustain the momentum of this pilot food project till June, “after which we will declare it as our permanent, long-term initiative as it caters to hungry, marginalised families across Jamshedpur. At present we are sustaining the tempo of our project.”
Babita Kumari (45) was given additional fruits by a seller after seeing her getting food at a Rotary thela. “We are happy at the quality and quantity of food being served at the carts. My hearty thanks to Rotary,” she says. Another beneficiary, Ram Gupta (60), is “much satisfied with the quantity of parathas with subzi I get from the food vendor.” Despite being an industrial city, Jamshedpur with a population of around 15 lakh has to contend with rising number of migrant families and casual labourers. “We aim to eliminate hunger by expanding our food coupon system in the coming months,” smiles Kumar.