This man from Mumbai has been feeding the poor during the pandemic

John Benjamin Nadar from Mumbai’s Bhandup area has been feeding the poor in and around the place since March last year and plans to open a rehabilitation centre for orphaned kids in his hometown in Tamil Nadu.
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John Benjamin Nadar from Bhandup, Mumbai, has been doing social service for about eight to nine years now. He says he has been inspired by his mother who has been rescuing trafficked girls from the red light areas in Mumbai for the last 20 years. His father was also an active social worker, until his death in 2018.

For the last two years, John was working for an NGO called Against Malnutrition, but due to the coronavirus lockdown, the job took a pause in 2020.

“All of a sudden I didn’t know what to do sitting at home, without church or any community social activity,” John shares with SocialStory.

Around the same time, one of his friends told him about a Muslim community in the neighbourhood that was distributing food to those severely impacted by the pandemic. John got inspired and wanted to join them in their efforts, but his brother-in-law suggested that he should start on his own.

John Benjamin Nadar with kids living under a flyover

What started as an initiative called ‘Serving Humanity’, the team of seven, which distributed about 150 meal packets earlier, has now distributed over 40,000 food packs, and has reached more than 3,500 families.

“We are still continuing with the cooking and feeding programme, and providing grocery kits to widows in Bhandup West,” says John.

The early days

When his brother-in-law suggested that he should start on his own, John did not have much money with him.

“At the time, I only had about Rs 350 in my bank account. But all of us pooled in whatever amount we had and managed to collect about Rs 1,400,” says John.

“We managed to find a stove and started cooking on March 31, 2020, and managed to make about 150 meal packets and went to different places, including the forest area to cater to the tribals, in and around Bhandup West. Four of us went along the streets to distribute it to those living on a hand-to-mouth basis,” he adds.

But on the second day, they were out of money.

“We put up our cause on Facebook and raised a request for donations. Very soon, I got a call from a senior in my office and she immediately helped out by sending us a few grocery items like rice and dal,” he says.

John and his friends turned their prayer hall into a kitchen, the members of their youth group became volunteers, and each one was delegated their own tasks – purchasing from the Mulund market, cutting vegetables, and cooking. The packing and distribution were done together.

Tejas Thakker, Laal Ranjith, Babu Nadar and John Benjamin Nadar

John and his friends - Babu Nadar, David Nadar, Laal Ranjith, Stephen Nadar, and Kisan Jaiswar, continuously served food for 200-250 people every day for about three months into the lockdown. With days passing, he came to call this initiative ‘Serving Humanity’, which is not registered yet.

Decimal Foundation, managed by Neelam Jetwani, where John had worked earlier, was and still is supporting John and his work. “The organisation gives us groceries to cook and snacks to distribute to poor on streets and to daily wage labourers.”

“We also continued the food distribution work in tribal areas for many days, seeing which one of my friends, who lives in Dubai, shared it on his social media page, which helped us get some traction,” says John.

Apart from them, many others are voluntarily helping the initiative. Tejas Thakker, a casting director in Bollywood, went to meet John after hearing about his work and joined Serving Humanity.

A woman named Sushmita celebrated her wedding anniversary with the street children in Bhandup West, one of the slum areas in Mumbai.

“Apart from meal distribution, we also distributed rations kits to many places like Diva, Kalva, Versova, Tribal Area, Bhandup West, Mahul, and Vikroli, among other places in Mumbai,” says John.

Kellogg’s was one of the main contributors for their distribution. The company donated products worth Rs 10 lakh to poor kids - about 1,000 packs in the first slot and then 2,000 packs in the second slot.

Some of the products like Kellogg’s Muesli was distributed by the Mumbai police along with hygiene essentials like masks and sanitisers.

They also received support from Deloitte to procure rations to make the meals.

Some of the recipients of the Kellog's nutrition packets

The impact

Sarla Oha, a 60-year-old widow residing in Bhandup West, was one of the happy recipients of the grocery kits.

She says, “Lockdown has made my family struggle, but the grocery kits have helped me save some money. My only daughter, who is divorced, stays with me, but even though she earns, it is not enough to feed the whole family. Meals and groceries has given us hope that we won’t have to be hungry again.”

Distribution of meal packets in one of the slum areas.

“I am happy to receive these groceries and hot meals, because of which I am able to save money. I can use this money to buy medicines,” says Vimala Devi, 68, who lives by herself in Bhandup.

“Right now, we are doing the distribution as and when resources like groceries come in, at least two times a week. But our plan is to give out at least one time meal for those living on the streets, and we are seeking help for the same,” says John.

He further says that the main challenge in the entire distribution drive is procuring the resources for cooking and getting funds for the distribution.

Another challenge was logistics, where the volunteers had to carry the meals up the hilly areas manually as there was no other way to access these areas.

The road ahead

While John wants to continue the drive on a daily basis, he also wants to open a centre where children can be educated and adults can be upskilled in various activities like candle-making and other smaller activities.

“We also want to set up a community kitchen in this building so that we can make the meals here and distribute it to the poor. I want to fulfil my mother’s wish in these difficult times through this social initiative,” says John.

“I also want to open a rehabilitation centre for orphaned children in my native place in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, and also provide diabetes-friendly foods to those who are suffering from the disease. This is my biggest dream,” he says.

Edited by Megha Reddy

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