SCVs helped NGOs to organise community kitchens during the March and April 2020 lockdown in India.

Story by Deven Lad

Mumbai resident Ruben Mascarenhas is busy fielding calls on his mobile. When he is not doing so, he is busy calling SCV operators to drive his social initiative ‘Khaana Chhaiye’, which is part of the ‘Litmus Test Project’. A techie by education and activist by choice, Mascarenhas, along with his friends Pratik Keni and Munaf Kapadia is driving the ‘Khaana Chhaiye’ through crowdfunding, and has engaged four Tata Ace SCVs to transport food packets from the Bohri Kitchen restaurant to different parts of the city. Feeding the needy people by the roadside in the times of Novel Coronavirus, the four SCVs and their operators are playing a key role in forwarding the noble cause. Found with essential service stickers on their windshield, the SCVs are being favoured because of their ability to fit the cost and payload requirements of such initiatives. They are also being favoured for their ability to manoeuvre through the narrow streets of the cities and reach out to the truly needy.

Stating that the SCVs are carrying their packets to areas the Western Express Highway, Eastern Express Highway, between Link Road and Juhu Circle, between Andheri and Dahisar, to Masjid Bandar Labour Camp and to Chembur, Mascarenhas expressed that they are finding the mini-trucks of much use as they each can carry around 1000 to 2000 food packets. They are helping the 50 volunteers of ‘Khaana Chahiye’ better coordinate their efforts to distribute 30,000 meals across the mega city every day, he added. Explaining that logistics is a nightmare for any social project in a situation like this (the city is under lockdown and the atmosphere of fear and worry prevalent), Mascarenhas said that his organisation is also reaching out to truck terminals and areas near toll booths to feed stranded truck drivers.


For the noble cause

A Navi Mumbai-based transporter has also come to use SCVs to feed stranded truckers in his region. His team consisting of fellow transporters and some other individuals have been feeding migrant workers and their families as well. They are stranded and with no work to do, are starving, the transporter expressed. ‘No Food Waste’ (NFW), a Coimbatore-based start-up engaged in the initiative of supplying food to migrant labourers and homeless, is also using SCVs to its advantage. It is making clever use of vehicles to distribute food packets in different parts of Chennai and Hyderabad. The organisation is everyday distributing 50,000 food packets from the kitchen. Besides distribution of food to the homeless and needy, NFW is also collecting food that is wasted in hotels, restaurants and functions. To do so efficiently, it is using SCVs.
The role of SCVs in the noble cause to feed the needy and homeless is clear when one considers that NFW until now has collected 321 tonnes of food and served 98 per cent of it. Since it was founded in 2014, the organisation has bought a total of 23 SCVs through crowdfunding. Expanding its scope of work beyond Tamil Nadu to states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Maharashtra, it is, according to the founder Padmanaban Gopalan, renting SCVs besides its fleet of Tata Ace and Ashok Leyland Dost in the current scenario. Informed Gopalan that many SCV operators and people have come forward as a goodwill gesture. “The food recovery vehicle reaches the hunger spots, piloted by ‘driver volunteers’. Once food is collected, it is distributed among the needy by the same team,” he explained. Not only in the current situation, but in the floods in the Chennai region as well, NFW is known to have good work. During the Chennai floods, it distributed food in 22 different trucks in a short span of two days.

The hand of god

Distributing 200 packets a day, the Coimbatore Catering Owners Association has engaged SCVs as well for its logistics needs. They have been engaged by the district administration and private NGOs, claimed a source. He mentioned that NGOs and various government agencies have come together to ease the movement of SCVs without overlooking the health and safety of drivers. The delivery drivers are provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and food packets for their daily survival, he mentioned. Said Mascarenhas, that they too are ensuring the safety and well-being of the drivers of the SCVs that they have engaged. Considering the fact that they provide three meals a day, the drivers have been supplied with PPE health safety kits. The operators are paid a regular rent fare. However, the drivers have been voluntarily charging less, said Mascarenhus. By doing this, they too are coming to find a way to contribute to a noble cause, he added.
Paying fixed salary to their drivers, NFW, apart from providing safety equipment, is conducting regular sessions in health safety and prevention given the current situation. While Mascarenhas and Gopalan, as well as their organisations, may enjoy a certain clout, and their organisations that are doing good work, but finding it difficult to find acceptance as well as support. Distributing food to the needy, supplying essential goods and vegetables to housing societies and areas in cities and towns, many NGOs, having engaged SCVs, are finding it difficult to get the authorities to issue ‘essential services’ stickers. There are also those, however, who are getting very good support from the police as well as the other local and regional authorities.

Challenges continue to follow NGOs like a shadow as they go about their work, especially in the current situation. Logistis is a prime area of challenge for many NGOs that are running community kitchens. It primarily concerns transportation of raw material, grocery vegetables, etc., and at the later stage, to distribute food to areas where needy people are to be found. Confusion or misunderstanding at times is said to lead to authorities denying permission to deliver food from the community kitchen to the needy. Said a social worker of an organisation on condition of anonymity, that they initially faced much difficulty in procuring the essential services stickers to be able to distribute the food packets using SCVs. Said a person engaged with another NGO, that their movements have been restricted. Yet another social worker with an NGO lauded the support the authorities and cops have extended for the supply of food packets to the needy. A social worker at Pune drew attention to the initiative of the department of labour in Pune. He mentioned that the department has taken an initiative to distribute mid-day meals among 15,850 workers at 95 construction sites in the city using SCVs . Averred Shailendra B Pol, Additional Labour commissioner, Pune division, “Labour department is carrying big dabbas (containers) of food inside these (SCV) trucks and going to different sites.” “The SCVs are playing a key role as the number of people to be served is huge,” he added.

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