Have you heard about Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, the ones who robbed the rich and distributed the spoils amongst the poor? The Robin Hood Army in India operates similarly but with a difference. They do not rob. They merely seek voluntary donations of food that they can feed the hungry. A voluntary organization that works to get surplus food from restaurants and food joints that would otherwise go waste, it collects that to feed the lesser fortunate ones in society in cities across India and Pakistan. The overall aim is to reach out to more and more hungry people who cannot fend for themselves and alleviate their need for food.
The brains behind Robin Hood Army
Neel Ghose and Anand Sinha are co-founders of this admirable project that has started as a beacon light for more ambitious works with a much wider reach. Registered in August 2014 as a charitable trust in India, of the co-founders Anand Sinha is an entrepreneur and heads a technology start-up called PressPlay while Neel Ghose is currently the vice president of international operations at Zomato, the Online Restaurant Guide. Neel Ghosh had worked as a volunteer with Refood, Halder’s initiative in Lisbon, Portugal.
"It started as a one man show in 2011. Hunter Halder would hop on his bicycle every night, scout Lisbon restaurants to pick up each restaurant's leftover food to distribute among those hardest hit by the country's economic crisis. Today Halder has 1500 volunteers and Re-food feeds 50,000 people daily in Portugal. That's my vision for India too- feed as many people as possible ," said Ghose.
The RHA brigade
Initially the two 26 year olds inspired by the Refood project got together in August 2014 and started the Robin Hood Army with 5 volunteers. They started to feed the needy living under the flyovers of Outer Ring Road by distributing food parcels. This gradually reached 120 spread across 5 cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Today it is a solid organization consisting of over 1000 volunteers across 18 cities such as Jaipur, Jabalpur, Panipat, Gurgaon and Faridabad besides the five mentioned earlier. The reach includes four cities of Pakistan also. The volunteers are mainly young working professionals from various fields. Those they cater to include homeless families, orphanages, night shelters, homes for abandoned children, patients from public hospitals, etc. An estimate puts it as 2.5 lakh people fed till date.
The basic objective and ideology adopted is to have self-sustained communities across a city i.e. each locality/community within the city will contribute towards providing food to the needy through its local volunteers and restaurants. The more the volunteers more the people that can be served within an area, thereby also an increase in frequency in number of days the needy can be served. Currently the scheme caters to every Sunday or a chosen day in the week.
What is the fare served?
Kichdi, Alu Parathas, Biryani, garlic bread, vada pao and whatever else they could get as leftovers from restaurants like Kebab Express, Hyderabad House, Midnight Munchies and the like. The policy was, and will be, to never collect waste food and serve. The leftover food is decently packed by volunteers and the parcels delivered to the other volunteers at spots earmarked beforehand that could include the maximum number of people that could be fed. The restaurants mostly stand-alone types that respond better to such requests and on regular basis since it also helps them in a way, ensure that the effort does not go in vain. Some have even volunteered as a goodwill gesture to cook fresh food if needed for the purpose.
The noteworthy aims and objectives of the RHA brigade
- The RHA currently has a tie-up with very many obliging restaurants in 17 cities across India that provide the food on a regular basis unfailingly.
- RHA does not accept monetary donations. It only provides food and anything else provided in kind received from the restaurants and individual donors.
- There are increased efforts to tie-up more and more of food providers to improve the quantity that can be served at a time in this win-in effort.
- There is increased use of social media and other possible channels to create awareness in society, to get more volunteers involved, so that the effort to feed as many of the needy as possible improves with time. This also gets to be self-sustainable with the formation of groups within a local area taking care of the needy within their own area.
Campaigns already undertaken by RHA
The Robin Hood Army has made good use of Facebook and Twitter to generate awareness and getting new volunteers to join (evident from the fast improving numbers of volunteers). There are special campaigns and efforts made close to important festivals and occasions.
- In October 2014 during Diwali, RHA launched a Facebook campaign, asking followers to gift anything from food, clothes, sweets, toys and whatever else that could be useful for the needy and to post a picture of the act with the hashtag #BeRobinthisDiwali. These pics. were then re-posted on the RHA Facebook page.
- In December 2014, The Robin Hood Army Winter Campaign launched with hashtag #BeRobinthisChristmas aimed at collecting warm clothes and blankets at designated places with collection boxes across India to be later distributed to the homeless in winter.
- Partnering with start-ups Uber, ScoopWhoop, Zomato to launch a unique initiative on Independence Day, 2015 – #Mission100K, it united students across the Indian sub-continent to rally together to serve food to 1,00,000 homeless on Independence Day in 23 cities across India.141 colleges and offices and 2400 citizens participated in the initiative. The participants of the initiative visited 42 orphanages and served 78,559 less fortunate people. The event was also widely covered by various forms of media.
Laudable Future Plans
- Having roped in a prestigious institution like Lady Shriram College in Delhi, whose girls could be volunteers soon, the dream of serving leftover food on a daily basis could become a reality. Attempts to get student volunteers from other institutions across India, is also underway.
- The efforts to get more and more volunteers on board to take ownership of their own immediate areas could serve more numbers of the needy effectively and with increased frequency. Smaller towns are also being roped in through social media responses to widen the reach. The aim is to rope in as many cities and towns as possible within the next one year, 20 being achievable but more coming in would be most welcome.
- Special occasions like weddings, festivals, social functions on big scale are being eyed and those catering are being tied up with to cut possible waste and provide those in need.
- Sometimes there is fear that food collected if not distributed within a certain time could go stale and be wasted again. As Corporates are now mandated to spend 2 percent of their three-year annual average net profit towards CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), tapping India Inc to sponsor meals and refrigerators is a realistic hope gaining ground. However, the army will not raise money from investors but urge them to sponsor specific projects.
If this is not sensational what is? A chance journey, an inspiring take away, a quick start, an even faster response to the idea through the increasing numbers of volunteers, is phenomenal success indeed. What is even more heartening is that the people of India have shown what a big heart they have, especially the youngsters who are game to anything that is novel and inspiring, that can make a positive difference to an existing situation.
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If the Robin Hood Army continues in this fashion and more and more join in every day, one can be sure that one day the ‘Ram Rajya Praja Sukhi’ (Lord Ram’s rule, where all subjects are happy) saying, always seemingly a dream could at least become a reality to some extent.