Can 90% of Bengaluru feed 10% of its poor?

bengaluru-meals-imageEach one of us want to help a needy, or feed a poor. But, most of us are not comfortable in giving money, as we are not sure if it will translate to food that will feed the hungry. If we can have a efficient system that ensures ever rupee we contribute, converts into food to feed the needy, i am sure, majority of us will donate to the cause. Its not daily, at-least once in a week, or a month. .

That would make a huge change! Will it wipe out hunger from Bangalore? Yes

About 25 citizens inspired by a movement in Kozhikode are planning to eradicate hunger in the city.Bengaluru Meals encourages people to pay for coupons that can be exchanged for a meal by the needy at a local eatery.

The idea is simple. No government. No big sponsors. Ordinary people donate boxes kept at restaurants. The money is converted into ‘food coupons’. Such coupons are made available at select outlets/petty shops in the railway stations, bus stands etc. Hungry person can take the coupon and present it in any of the designated restaurants in the city, and get a free meal.

The whole system is managed by volunteers. They convert the money into food, effortlessly. I feel this is the most efficient way of feeding the poor. No new kitchens, or govt interventions! The existing kitchens in the restaurants feed few more! I don’t think we can have a better system than this!

“We hope to start the pilot on August 15,” says coordinator of Bengaluru Meals Sandeep Pashwanath.

He is part of Samanya Kannadiga, the group that is making this project happen. “We follow (IAS officer) Manivannan sir on Facebook,” says the software engineer. “Last month, he posted about Operation Sulaimani.”

This movement was sparked by Kozhikode district collector Prashanth Nair six months after he took up office there.

He has taken a leaf out of Singapore’s Food on the Wall, where the needy can pick stickers from walls to avail themselves of breakfast or drinks others have already paid for.

Samanya Kannadiga wants to start with one constituency before it troubleshoots and expands across the city.

“We gathered last weekend to vote on which constituency it should be,” says Pashwanath. “Rajajinagar got the highest votes.” Shivajinagar came next, followed by Chikpet and Basavanagudi.

 “Though voting was confidential, Rajajinagar came first, perhaps because there’s an ESI hospital there,” he says. “These, unlike the private and other government hospitals, have no canteens. So people who go there will benefit from the `50 coupons.”

With Bengaluru’s cityscape rich in darshinis, the committee members are considering tying up with these fast-food joints for outlets. Operation Sulaimani has about 126 eateries on board now.

As for financing, the volunteers are still debating if CSR funding should be allowed. This is a path the Kerala model refused to tread.

“Soon after we started last July, a businessman offered `1 crore, and his employees another `25 lakh,” says Nair. “But we refused.”If such funding is allowed, it will become a ‘benevolence programme, not too different from vulgar charity’, he reasons. “And nobody is feeding anybody else here — it’s a community-owned programme,” he says.

He elaborates on how it works: “You walk into an outlet. If you have money, you use it to buy food and, perhaps, drop a few notes into the box. If you don’t, you ask for a coupon.”

People who have used a coupon come back later to add to the collection, he says. “It’s all about food with dignity, so we don’t ask unnecessary questions — how hungry are you, or when did you eat last.”Because of this, people have often feared the coupons will be misused, he offers. But how can they be misused, asks Nair.“This is not a poverty alleviation drive, it’s a hunger eradication programme,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that if you are well to do, you can’t be hungry — you could have lost your wallet, or your child could have left her lunchbox behind.”

Several social welfare programmes are so rigid about ensuring people don’t misuse them that they often drive actual beneficiaries away, he holds.

The initiative rides on existing infrastructure: it doesn’t require the construction of kitchens.

“The restaurants’ turnover has actually increased because more people are eating there,” Nair explains. “They  cash the coupons they have received.”

Though the eateries are not paying for the food, over the months, some owners have started offering food to the hungry, even without the `40 coupon. Over the past year, about 20,000 Operation Sulaimani coupons have been picked up

. “But we don’t measure success through numbers,” Nair adds. “If fewer people use the coupons because there is less hunger, it’s a positive sign.”

As part of the government machinery, he feels the  initiative in Bengaluru will also benefit from an officer’s involvement.

“They can help join the dots, make the process smooth,” says Nair, also an advisory member of Bengaluru Meals.

In Kozhikode, people can pick up coupons from a few government offices as well.

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