Pandemic Heroes: This mother-son duo are distributing cooked meals to the needy in Mumbai via their tiffin service
For many days into the lockdown, a handicapped lady in Mumbai used to travel several kilometres in an autorickshaw for one purpose only. She would reach the same destination every day, where she would be given a chair to sit on, and a proper meal to eat by two good Samaritans.
The pandemic forced many people, especially the underprivileged and migrant labourers out of jobs, as well as deprived them of shelter, food, even water.
Since May 2020, when the crisis was at its peak, 26-year-old Harsh Mandavia, and his mother Heena Mandavia, 49, have been selflessly distributing food at their eatery to homeless people and unprivileged of the society.
The mother-son duo run ‘Harsh Thali and Parathas’ tiffin service. They started feeding people for free after one of their regular customers inspired them. “I never thought that a single day business activity will see such a major turnout,” Harsh Mandavia tells SocialStory.
Distributing food to the homeless
Mumbai is well-known for its dabbawallahs and the city-wide tiffin services they provide. Many homemakers cook and provide tiffin services, which, in turn, provides them with a source of livelihood.
Harsh’s mother Heena has been running her tiffin service ‘Harsh Thali And Parathas’ since 1999 in the suburbs of Kandivali. In 2015, Harsh took over the business, and together they go with the tagline ‘Mom makes, son sells.’
“In May, one of our regular customers Abhinav Chaudhary wished to donate money to feed 100 people. But he asked me to find the needy people and feed them since he didn’t want to go out due to corona risk,” says Harsh.
Harsh found a place outside a gurudwara in Malad, where he distributed cooked meals to 100 poor people.
The meals comprise of roti, sabzi, dal, and rice, and is prepared by two staff members while maintaining strict hygiene protocols and is supervised by Heena. The food is then packed and taken to the distribution centre, where people queue up to collect their meals. Many food packets are also distributed to the old-age homes and orphanages nearby.
Social media response and donations
“It all began when I put an appreciation post on my social media regarding the first food donation activity by Abhinav, and people started donating money online from all over India,” says Harsh.
In the first two days, the duo received Rs 11,000 which they used to feed the needy on a daily basis. Thanks to the posts and videos about the food distribution drives on Harsh’s social media, more donations started pouring in.
In 20 days, they received Rs 1.5 lakh which they utilised in the next two months, providing cooked meals. Post that, they received about Rs 4.2 lakh in donations from about five different countries, including India, the USA, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Germany.
“To date, we have distributed over 8,500 meals and served more than 21,000 tawa rotis. Keeping in mind the unlock protocols, we have been feeding 200-250 people daily, and plan to do so at least till August 15,” Harsh says.
For further donations and details, you can contact Harsh: +91 9920895090.
Harsh and Heena were approached by people that comprised of families from the nearby slums, watchmen, daily wage earners, BMC garbage collectors, and autorickshaw drivers, who were rendered jobless for the last few months due to the pandemic.
Harsh shares that there had been an instance when a father asked for more sabzi, saying “I have kids at home and am too scared to bring them here.”
“One handicapped lady comes every day in a rickshaw, and we arrange for her to sit near the serving counter, and she keeps blessing and waving at us every time we serve her food,” Harsh shares.
Despite the risks of contracting the deadly virus and constant requests by friends and family to not step out, the cause to feed people has driven the duo to do this selfless act.
“It’s my mother’s support and my personal willingness to serve that has kept me going. But in the bigger picture, its people’s trust and the power of social media that helped us conduct this food donation drive continuously. My mother and I are just a medium,” Harsh says.
Edited by Suman Singh