Battling hunger in Triplicane

Featured image credits: The Hindu

Abhinaya Harigovind

Chennai, Feb 14: Two months after Altaf Ahmad began distributing food to the needy in Triplicane, he has realised that battling hunger, even in a single area, is a tall order.

What began as an informal arrangement to distribute breakfast occasionally to the poor in the locality has now become Triplicane’s Food Bank. Altaf and his team of ten volunteers collect, pack and distribute the food.

“Most of the food comes from wedding halls and celebrations like birthdays,” said Altaf, who is a retired real estate agent. “We have asked the halls nearby to let us know if they have food left over. Almost always there is a lot of food left from every wedding.” A few weeks ago, they received 25 kg of biryani left over from a wedding.

Food Bank volunteers are spread across the city and sometimes collect food from wedding halls in Pallavaram and Tambaram as well. “We get calls at around 12 a.m. informing us that there is food left over from a celebration. But ten people across the city is hardly enough. We end up going from one end of the city to another to pick up food since we don’t have volunteers in every area,” Altaf said.

They usually prepare breakfast at their office in Triplicane out of the donations they get. Lunch and dinner are distributed out of the food they collect. Their office is equipped with a fridge. “People who know about us in the area come to leave and take food from the fridge,” Altaf said. “Sometimes, children come asking for food for their entire family.”

When they began, Altaf and his volunteers would distribute food to the homeless on pavements and outside temples and the Triplicane railway station. Now, apart from the homeless, they have also identified other needy families in the area.

“We did a survey last month where we identified around 37 families in Triplicane and adjoining Royapettah. The people we found to be most in need were widows, differently-abled people, the old and the sick, and famlies in which the adults have not been able to find and keep regular jobs,” he said. They take packed food to the houses they have identified at least once every day. Sometimes, they distribute rations like rice and sugar that they receive through donors.

The previous night’s food has been distributed and the Food Bank fridge lies empty till the next donation. | Abhinaya

Altaf hopes to extend the Food Bank to more areas. “When we started the project, we didn’t realise how many families go to bed hungry. There are so many that we are unable to serve now because we don’t have enough volunteers or funds,” he said. 

Last night, the Food Bank received a call at 11 p.m. requesting that extra food be picked up from a wedding hall in the area. Altaf has just finished packing and distributing what they had collected. “There is a little bit left over in the fridge to distribute for dinner. Once you know that so many of your neighbours do not have enough to eat, it is difficult to stop this work, or even stop thinking about it,” he said.

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