“Feel what it’s like to truly starve, and I guarantee that you’ll forever think twice before wasting food.”
― Criss Jami, Killosophy
Do you know what kills millions of people in the world every year? Not AIDS, TB, cancer or malaria. “It’s hunger,” points out Ankit Kawatra.”India has the highest number of malnutrition deaths in the world. That’s not something, we should be proud about,” says Ankit. Delhi-based Ankit, 24, is one of the 17 young world leaders selected by the United Nations in 2015 as part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He represented India at the global summit in New York.
Ankit lives in Delhi with his parents — his father is a businessman and mother, a homemaker. He worked in a global business advisory firm for two years. When asked how it all started, Ankit said “In 2014, I was attending a wedding. There were about 1,000 guests and 35 different items on the menu. When I had a chat with the caterer, he told me the food could easily feed about 5,000 people, but after the guests leave, all this food would be dumped was shocked to find that so much food would be wasted that day. It struck me that if I were to find a way to use the excess food to feed the hungry, it would be so much useful. That’s how the idea was born.”
I had no plan, but I wanted to test my idea that day. I asked my friend to join me and convinced the caterer to provide me with spare containers to carry the unused food. So, at 2 am, we put everything in the car and set out to locate people whom we could feed. Given the odd hour, it felt stupid and at the time, I felt excited to do it. We found a shelter home that had only 100 people. There was so much food that my friend was sitting in the front seat of the car with a container on his lap. On our way, we were stopped by cops who weren’t quite convinced why we were carrying so much food at the late hour. They suspected something foul, so we had to convince them really hard. After a lot of driving around and making a dozen phone calls, we found a place where we could donate all the food.
The next day, Ankit put up his resignation from his corporate job. He did not inform his parents. He used the notice period for two months to do some research on food quality and food waste. He also spoke to several NGOs and caterers who could help him. He invested his savings in this project.
He started off as a not-for-profit organization which involved working with volunteers who are committed to the cause and are sharing their feedback. As he could not afford to pay people, so he was hiring them for a period of six months like an internship set-up. Simultaneously, he was working on a sustainable funding model. Initially, Ankit was against donations. But subsequently, he opened up to the idea of partnerships and crowd funding to enable him to expand the idea to more cities.
The idea soon got converted into action and Ankit launched Feeding India in August 2014. The plan was simple — to collect excess food from parties, events, and weddings and then distribute it in shelter homes. He started by getting volunteers, or Hunger Heroes, as he named them. These heroes were selected from different locations in the city.Ankit then launched a 24×7 helpline that people could call whenever they wanted to donate excess food.
Feeding India partnered with various catering companies that would inform Ankit and his team in advance about various events. And at the end of the event, they would give them a call informing them about the amount of excess food available. The ‘Hunger Heroes’ who lived near that particular location would collect the food and, if possible, distribute it the same night in shelter homes. In case the food could not be distributed the same day or night, it was kept in cold storage and donated the next day. “We mostly distribute it immediately after collecting it. There are various shelter homes open 24×7,” says Ankit. The Feeding India team also has a team of experts who test the food’s quality before it is donated.
Feeding India has now built a strong network of over 750 Hunger Heroes in 20 cities of India; they do not hesitate in performing their duties, even at odd hours. “There was a time when we had to collect food for over 5,000 people in one night. We did not even have so many containers. We had to do two trips to get all the food and our Hunger Heroes got back home at 5 am. This is the kind of dedication everyone shows,” says Ankit.Feeding India does not have any external financial support and currently runs on the personal money of the members. They do ask the caterers and event managers to pay for transport if possible.
“We organize small events where we make people pledge that they will not waste food. Through these small interventions we are trying to change the mindset of the people,” says Ankit.In the future, Feeding India wants to reach out to over 50 cities in India and get more corporate partnerships so that the hungry can get food.