A midnight hunger pang. A realisation. An idea. A movement. This is pretty much how Mahita Fernandez announced ‘Feed Your Neighbour’ on Facebook and mobilised the community and together, managed to feed 1,22,937 meals to the hungry and famished making the days counting upto Dussehra.
Mahita is an entrepreneur who runs a children’s activity area in Bangalore for the last five years. She has a seven-year-old boy, and loves motherhood! In her previous avatar, she was a corporate communications professional, having worked for companies such as Infosys, CavinKare, and Henkel India.The midnight hunger pang
“There was a night towards the end of September, when I was unable to sleep because I was hungry. I cribbed and complained to myself for a little bit, and then realised that I was just being ungrateful and selfish. Here I was, with a warm bed, a roof over my head, and a refrigerator full of food, and out there, there are millions who are hungry every single night.”
Right then, she decided to do something about it. “I thought about it for about half an hour, and the next morning, I announced it on Facebook,” she recalls.
Idea in place, intent announced, now what?
The next step was mobilising the community to be a part of Feed Your Neighbour (FYN). But how? Mahita humbly says, “All I did was use social media. I think my aim was to show that it doesn’t take one large act of generosity by one individual to make a difference; rather, it has to be tiny acts by multiple parties that create a ripple effect, which would then significantly benefit the whole community.”
She says that she didn’t have to try very hard to get people on the bandwagon. She shares
I think that people were excited by how little effort it would take to make a difference, and so once a few people got to know about FYN, they gradually began to mobilise their friends and family too. After all, when one person cooks five plates of food, it doesn’t seem like a large effort. But when you translate that into 1,999 other people doing the exact same thing at the same time, then together, they make a massive difference in the community.
She adds that the other thing that excited people was that it was completely neighbourhood based (hence the name). The idea was that each person’s contribution would go someplace nearby his/her home, making an impact that was visible and tangible.
Although mobilising the community was relatively easier, there was a tougher part – logistics.
Success of FYN and difficulty in logistics were directly proportional
“Yes, logistically, it was difficult to pull it off, since we wanted it to be a locality-based activity. The first step was to see what areas people were contributing food from, match that to distribution centers close by, and then identify suitable centers where people could drop off their cooked food contributions,” she shares.
On the first day, 4,454 meals were delivered and the number continued to restore people’s faith in their own goodness and service for others, with the highest number of meals a day being 19,440 on the penultimate day of the programme. In 11 days, FYN was able to satiate 1,22,937 grumbling bellies.
She credits the success of every aspect of FYN to her army of volunteers and the effort put in by the community, and identifies herself only in the capacity of a facilitator. She tells us,
People opened their homes as drop-off centres for cooked food, other volunteers spent time and effort locating shelter homes, slums or areas where we could distribute the collected food, and some other volunteers spent significant time and effort actually ensuring that this food reached the needy and deserving. People helped out with time, effort, money, dry contributions, transportation, and any form of assistance they could offer. It was a mammoth effort and all because of the involvement of a few thousand people across the city.
Mahita tells us that while a lot of the logistical arrangements were also contributed (distribution, transportation, etc), FYN also had people who contributed cash towards the initiative. This was used to cover any costs that were incurred while carrying out the FYN programme.
FYN did not actively seek out any associations, yet a lot of organisations actually did come forward of their own accord. “Several restaurants, the Round Table, Ladies Circle, Sena Vihar Ladies group, BNI, all stepped forward to help out in their own ways,” says Mahita.
After ginormous success and happy bellies comes the bigger challenge and opportunity
Mahita says that there were minor kinks along the way, which the FYN team was able to overcome. “The beauty of this programme is that while we always knew that the hunger problem existed, executing FYN has demonstrated that there are also people willing to contribute and make a difference,” she says and then throws light on the challenges ahead, “The biggest challenge therefore, lies ahead of us now. How do we make this long term and sustainable? How do we keep the momentum going? And what are the steps we take, going forward?”
She is certain that this programme needs to continue. “The way forward will be to match supply with demand, and create a programme that is sustainable in the long term,” says Mahita with the confidence of a seasoned entrepreneur.
Doers (of all ages) make things happen
Mahita stresses on how absolutely inclusive the group of volunteers were. With contentment and gratefulness, she says,
For instance, I had a huge group of senior citizens coming forward to enthusiastically volunteer – both by cooking, as well as personally identifying and distributing the food. I had parents involving their children – our youngest volunteer was only 2.5 years old! I had maids, cooks, drivers, and auto drivers contributing cooked food as well as money and time.
But most importantly, the greatest benefit of this entire exercise was the reaction of the recipients. So many of them have been marginalised and ignored, that more than the food, they were grateful for the attention and affection that we gave them, even for the brief minutes we spent with them. They have taught us (and I speak on behalf of all distribution volunteers here) lessons in life, faith, humility, and graciousness. They have taught us to look beyond issues we see as problems, but rather to look at everything life throws our way, as just another situation that needs to be dealt with.
FYN has shown us all that where there is a will, there is certainly a way!
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