Mumbai’s 400 Food Carriers Start Bread Bank To Serve The Hungry

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Thanks to an initiative by Mumbai’s famous dabbawalas, or lunchbox delivery men, leftover food at weddings and parties will be picked up and delivered to the city’s poor through a ‘Roti (Bread) bank’. 400 food carriers have partnered with 30 large wedding caterers and planners to source unwanted untouched food from the edges of the city’s massive wedding and catering market.

Two helpline numbers – +919867221310 and +918652760542 – have also been started for the party people to schedule a ‘pick-up’ for the excess food. The dabbawalas nearest to the location will collect it, package it, and distribute it among pavement dwellers, slum residents and anyone living below the breadline.

Why should be the food dumped in the bin when it can be shared with those who cannot afford one proper meal a day? We are known for quickly reaching a location and delivering lunch boxes. We want to use the same skills to help the poor,” said Subhash Talekar, the dabbawala union’s spokesperson.

“The caterers called us and said that lot of food gets wasted when big events are organized. So these leftover can be packed and given to lunchbox delivery men who can take them to the poor. This is a social work,” he added.

Though the initiative has been launched with focus on year-end festivities, Roti Bank will continue for the coming months on a no-profit, no-loss basis.

Shashank Kadam, a lunchbox deliveryman and a member of the union, said he was glad to be a part of the initiative.

“For any event, more food is prepared to ensure guests are not left waiting with empty plates. Often, there is leftover food that we want to distribute among the needy, but we cannot reach more people because of time and manpower constraints. The dabbawalas have come up with a great idea to prevent wastage because of such problems.”

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To expand their services and enroll customers fast, the dabbawalas have gone online. To utilise the service, a customer has to enter name, contact number and address on their website http://www.dabbewale.com/and the dabbawala in that area will get in touch.

“Earlier, new customers had to face difficulties in contacting us. They had to wait at railway stations to contact us or seek the help of their building watchmen for the purpose. Now, a dabbawala will be at their doorstep once they contact us online,” Talekar told The Hindu.

For the uninitiated, more than 5,000 dabbawalas deliver lunchboxes to about 1,30,000 employees in offices across Mumbai, taking the crowded suburban trains and bicycles, with little or no error, a feat that has won them a six-sigma rating.

The dabbawalas conduct some 260,000 transactions daily — 130,000 boxes are delivered to offices every morning and 130,000 are returned home every afternoon — six days a week, 51 weeks a year. That’s nearly 80 million annual deliveries. Their global business fan club includes Prince Charles and flamboyant owner of Virgin Group Richard Branson.

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