This Bengal teacher collects, cooks food to feed the impoverished (IANS Special Series)
While the habit of wasting food at festivities, parties or even at household dinners has become an increasingly callous trend in urban living, a computer science teacher from West Bengal's Asansol is working diligently to put a leash on food wastage and save hundreds from hunger.
Chandra Sekhar Kundu, the founder of Food, Education and Economic Development (FEED), collects excess untouched food from college and office canteens everyday and distributes it among nearly 200 poor children from Kolkata and Asansol.
Apart from supplying the daily meal to the underfed for the last four years, Kundu and his associates cook fresh food every night for street children in at least three places in Asansol and provides them necessary lessons on food education and nutrition.
"So many people in our nation stay hungry. It is not possible for us to feed them all but at least if we stop wasting food and give away the excess to those who need it, I feel we can prevent many from spending another night on an empty stomach," said Kundu, also called the 'food-man' by many in his neighbourhood.
"I did an RTI on food wastage in 2016 and found out that around 22,000 crore tonnes of foodgrain is wasted in India every year. If we can save only 10 percent of that, it would be enough to match our government's arrangements for mid-day meals each year," he said.
Kundu's life changed forever on the night of his son Srideep's birthday party in 2015 when he went outside to dump some spare food and found two street children scavenging for pieces of chicken from a dustbin.
"Pained by the sight, I brought them to my home and provided them whatever we could arrange. I felt extremely guilty for throwing away the excess dishes minutes ago and wondered why I never gave it much of a thought before. I could not sleep that night," he reminisced.
Within a few months of the incident, Kundu made a short film on food wastage to raise awareness on the issue. The effort was largely appreciated by his colleagues and students at the Asansol Engineering College.
Kick-starting his tirade against the food wasters, he set up an NGO named 'Bengal Save Food and Save Life Brigade' with his team of students and fellow teachers from the college, who initially collected the extra food from the college canteen and fed 15 to 20 poor children dwelling in Asansol station.
"We formed FEED in 2016 and approached the canteen owners of a number of educational institutions and offices in Asansol and Kolkata. Today we have tie-ups with the CISF barracks in Asansol, IIM Calcutta and a few other offices under a project called 'Commitment 365 days' where the canteens of the respective organisations provide us their excess food on a daily basis.
"We provide day meals to around 180 street children every day with this food," Kundu explained.
The street children living under the Gariahat flyover in south Kolkata and a slum in Joka, among other places, are the beneficiaries of the scheme.
While the day meals are collected and supplied, the volunteers of the organisation cook fresh food for the poverty stricken as they do not want to serve dishes stored for a long time
"It is difficult to collect food at night as it might be too late for the children. It would be unhygienic to serve them food from the afternoon. So our volunteers cook fresh food at two places of Asansol. Close to a hundred kids have dinner every night," he said, adding that the initiative is partly funded by the Steel Authority of India (SAIL).
Buoyed by the success, Kundu has started another initiative called 'Share your special day' where people from all walks of life can make their birthdays, marriage or anniversaries memorable by filling the plates of under-fed kids with nutritious food.
"Several people have come forwared and contributed since we started it almost two years back. Many newly-weds join us to celebrate their anniversaries while some parents contribute on their kid's birthday. It seems the bright smiles in the faces of those kids makes their special day a bit extra special," said Kundu, who regularly posts pictures of those children and the contributors on his Facebook page.
"We have expansion plans. We are in talks with a number of organisations and eateries in Kolkata so that more such children can be helped. We also need a refrigerator to be able to store food for longer period and a vehicle for transporting it," he added.
(The weekly feature series is part of a positive-journalism project of IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Milinda Ghosh Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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