New Delhi: A group of young professionals came together to start an initiative called ‘Hunger Collective’ to address the issue of hunger among the poor and distressed families in the country soon after the nationwide lockdown was announced in late March to curb the transmission of COVID-19. Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, lakhs of daily wagers, cab and auto drivers, construction workers, waiters, and others who work in small businesses lost their livelihood and had to struggle to survive and put food on the table. For a lot of people who migrated to cities, with their savings drying up, they were forced to take a long and hard journey back to their home. With an aim to provide some relief to the migrant workers and daily wagers, Hunger Collective collaborated with NGOs, private firms and government agencies to distribute food, ration kits and essential items to the needy.
‘Hunger Collective’ was formed on March 28, four days after the lockdown was imposed, out of the collaboration of three Mumbai based institutions- Impactree, a social impact data company; EDUCO, a non-government organisation; CI Metrices, a software development company. The initiative has till now served food and ration kits to over one lakh people.
While talking to NDTV about the initiative, Rajashri Sai, co-founder, Hunger Collective and Founder, Impactree said,
Soon after the lockdown started, we quickly put a platform using WhatsApp communication channel to authenticate the demand for food where needed. We were in touch with state and district departments and soon realised that the government was not able to focus on food much at that point of time because they were dealing with the medical aspects of the lockdown to control the pandemic. We thought that we can use the technology in collecting the data of demand from the migrant workers and daily wage earners who were stuck in Mumbai. We collaborated with a number of NGOs. So if an NGO was going to a certain place to distribute food, we used to give them a list of people who need food at a place near to the place they planned on visiting. Like this, we were serving more than 25,000 people by the mid of April.
As Hunger Collective which has about 30 volunteers started reaching to more poor and needy people in slums of Mumbai, its work started getting recognition and the group started collaborating with government authorities and NGOs outside Mumbai as well. Currently, the collective is working in many locations across the country like Delhi, Pune, Faridabad, Satara, Udgir, Maheshwar, Roha, Arrah among others. Ms Sai added,
We started working with government departments including the disaster management department in Mumbai and Delhi and with the Department of Defence in many locations. By the end of April, when people ran out of money and even NGOs started running out of money, we started doing our own fundraiser. So far we have raised about one crore with support from over 90,000 people across India including various citizen organisations and individuals.
Acknowledging the initiatives of Hunger Collective, Rajeshwari Koti, Deputy controller civil defence Raigad district, Maharashtra said that in times of crisis like these, the government and civil society must work together to help those who have been affected the most and there is no doubt that Hunger Collective has been playing a great role in providing relief to the people in need since the starting of the lockdown.
While sharing his experience with NDTV, Mohammad Shahbaz, a Delhi University student and Hunger Collective’s ground volunteer at Bhalaswa said,
When the pandemic hit the country, I knew that it will not get over soon and extreme step will be taken by the government. However, I did not imagine that it will prove to be so devastating for so many people. I live in a slum in Bhalaswa and I have seen how scared and devasted a lot of families were when the breadwinners lost their jobs. So I along with a couple of my friends started distributing ration and food with whatever little savings we had. When our savings were exhausted, we reached out to Hunger Collective which provided us support in continuing with our initiative.
Apart from providing food and ration kits, another initiative that Hunger Collective had undertaken was supporting the migrant workers from Tamil Nadu who were stranded in front of railway stations and assist them in returning to their homes. Ms Sai said,
We supported the migrant workers from Tamil Nadu with food and ration for over two months. We then realised that this was not a sustainable way but Tamil Nadu was not ready to take them back at that point of time. We worked collectively with NGOs and media after which we got support from Corporates and with their support we were able to galvanise support from the Tamil Nadu government and Maharashtra government. Just a few days back we were able to send the four trains from Mumbai with over 7,000 migrants to Tamil Nadu. The last train was entirely sponsored by Hunger Collective via crowdfunding as the ‘Shramik Train’ scheme got over on May 31 and the last train couldn’t leave while the scheme was still running.
Ms Sai further added that once migrant workers reach their state, Hunger Collective assist them in getting into quarantine centre and back to their homes once the quarantine period gets over. Ms Sai said,
We follow up constantly and make sure that they reach home safely.
Hunger Collective has also donated over 1,000 PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) kits in the COVID-19 relief centre in Mumbai. With an aim to help in protecting the frontline warriors like doctors and other healthcare personnel, the collective provides them with PPEs, masks, and medical equipments like oximeters.
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