'They need our support': Non-profit orgs in India are true pandemic messiahs

·Contributor
·13-min read

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the pleasant world into a place of havoc and destruction, as the second wave still continues to claim lives of people. Many of them have lost their near and dear ones, and are dealing with frustration, grief, and anger - a mix of painful emotions. The current pandemic situation has not only put an indescribable load on the lives of frontline workers, but it also affected their personal lives too, leaving them with unbearable anxiety, depression, and psychological stress.

At tough times like these, people came forward to help the patients in whichever way possible. Be it donating money, raising funds for COVID relief, volunteering, finding oxygen and beds, delivering home cooked food to the patients, the community (we) stood up together to fight against this baneful virus. Likewise, there are non-profit organisations working round-the-clock to help the covid patients, and the needy people out there by coming up with numerous initiatives.

1) Oscar For Life - “Feeding 500+ Strays

Oscar For Life was started in 2018 by Vibha Tomar to commemorate the death of her beloved pet Oscar. She considers her pet Oscar as her family, love of her life and her good friend. 

In his honour and memory, I initiated the beginning of “Oscar For Life Charitable Trust”, says Vibha Tomar, a veterinary student. As the Covid-19 has brutally affected the lives of people, imagine the condition of strays and other animals. 

So, this young veterinary student came forward to rescue the strays and other animals by implementing several initiatives.

Vibha made cozy homes out of old and used tyres with rugs inside which would not only keep the animals warm and safe
Vibha made cozy homes out of old and used tyres with rugs inside which would not only keep the animals warm and safe

During the first lockdown, Vibha took the initiative of feeding the hungry strays of Delhi. It all started with 50 strays, later, the count rose to 350+ stray animals, including the dogs, cats birds monkeys, cows, and buffaloes and the feeding continued daily in the lockdown. This kind-hearted girl also rescued and took care of the injured animals including dogs, cats, crows, kites and pigeons amid lockdown.

About that, she said, “I also got the stray puppies and kittens adopted so that they wouldn’t suffer on the roads . I also found homes for the pets who had been abandoned. I also treat the injured strays with the guidance of veterinary doctors. My motive was to help as many animals as I could and to motivate and encourage people to feed the strays around their homes as well.

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Vibha also went beyond rescue and treatment to find these animals a home to live as well by sharing and connecting people all over India. Plus, she connected people with rescue organisations and individual rescuers or volunteers who could either rescue the injured street animals or take them to the veterinary clinic to provide them the required treatment. Another initiative Vibha started was strapping reflective collars to stray dogs to prevent them from getting injured by speeding vehicles. So far, she has collared more than 1500 stray dogs.

When the 1st lockdown got over , the strays were not used to having cars on the road and they continued to play, sleep and roam around freely on the roads. I then started strapping the stray dogs with the reflective collars which would prevent the strays from getting injured by the speeding vehicles. The reflective collars are visible from a great distance and makes the driver aware that there is an animal on the road so that he can slow down the vehicle preventing the road accident”, shares Vibha.

Vibha Tomar treating the dog
Vibha Tomar treating the dog

Another brilliant initiative was helping the strays by giving them cosy homes in winter time. More about the initiative, Vibha says, “These homes were made up of old and used tyres with rugs inside which would not only keep them warm but safe too. The tyres have been cut from both the ends so that the strays get more space to sleep and that those ends don't hurt them. These tyres can also be put up on the walls for the stray cats where they can sleep peacefully in a warm place and be safe from the dogs. I have taken the tyres of different sizes so that they can be placed according to the size of the dog in a particular area. 300+ tyre beds have been placed and also distributed to people for the street animals of their locality by me.

Finally, the water bowl project initiative - Vibha started this idea as the summer season gets troublesome for animals to survive, and Delhi is one of the hottest cities in India. So, Vibha distributed over 200 water bowls for the thirsty strays. The water is poured in those bowls and provided to dogs, cats, birds , monkeys and cattle who roam on the streets in search of water. “I had bowls of different water capacity, starting from 2 litres upto 5 litres , so that the bowls could be kept according to the need and number of the strays in a particular area”, adds Vibha. Isn’t this a humane thought? Of course it definitely is and we all must do something similar outside of our house to help birds and strays quench their thirst.

During the second wave of Covid-19, when the lockdown was imposed, Vibha again started feeding the stray animals and this time the number went up to feeding of 500+ strays. “I also rescued and treated the injured stray puppies, kittens, crows, kites, bats who had been injured. Many puppies have been adopted as I found loving families for them”, she says with a smile on her face.

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As far as food sourcing, Vibha said that she used to buy the food items from the donations she gets from the people, and prepares the food at her home itself. A big thanks to her mother who supported her in completing her daily tasks. The NGO spent around INR 60000/- to 80000/- per month to feed 500+ strays and other animals. “I post about my feeding activities on Instagram and Facebook. All my followers have always been really generous and selfless as they always reached out and donated whenever I was in need. Being a student, I depend on donations so that I can order and make enough food to feed the hungry strays”, says Vibha, the Founder Of Oscar For Life.

Besides her feeding work, she also rescued many strays which include dogs, cats, kites, crows, pigeons , cows, and even bats. She also treated them immediately after the rescue under the guidance of experienced veterinarians. Post-emergency treatment, she used to take them to her clinic so that she can give extra care and a second life to breathe again.

Oscar Water Bowl Project by Vibha to help strays get access to water
Oscar Water Bowl Project by Vibha to help strays get access to water

Vibha concluded with a heart-touching note: “There are days where I feel low and start crying thinking whether I will ever be able to give everything to the strays that I aim to , will I ever achieve everything that I dream of, but then, I look into their eyes and The thought comes that there is no way I am ever giving up. I will make things work no matter how hard or difficult it gets. It’ll all be worth their little wagging tail and sparkling eyes.

The Oscar For Life organization runs through crowdfunding and donations from friends, families, and people on social media. If you’d like to contribute to the organization, you can get in touch with the founder here.

2) Mission Aamra - “Distributing 30000 Meals A Month”

Mission Aamra is a Covid-19 relief initiative of the Pandanda Cheethamma Madappa Charitable Trust.. All the members working for Mission Aamra are locals and professionals from West Bengal. Through their work, they aim to support frontline, covid affected families, and daily wage earners. 

They started this initiative around April 2021, when the second wave started. In mid of May, they started the distribution work. “So it was nearly when West Bengal went into lockdown, just after the elections, because we saw it was an urgent requirement”, says Bhavna Madappa, Co-Founder of Mission Aamra.

Food distributions made by Mission Aamra
Food distributions made by Mission Aamra

The organization has started with two initiatives, one, “Free Distribution of cooked meals at govt hospitals” to support frontline workers, people suffering from covid, and family members who are waiting in the hospital. Second, “Free Distribution of ration kits in Kolkata and Rural Bengal” where they distribute monthly ration kits, and aim to support the daily wage earning families who lost their jobs during the pandemic. They have a team of 10 people, and apart from that, they have a team of 10 people for core distribution. Plus, in each location, they have tied up with local NGOs and SHGs too for easy processing and proper channelizing.

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As far as food package delivery part goes, the organization is distributing 1,000 nutritious vegetarian meals (rice, dal, vegetables, banana, biscuits) at government hospitals in Kolkata on a daily basis to Covid-19 affected families and front line workers at 4 locations- Calcutta Medical College, Sambhu Nath Pandit, Chittaranjan and SSKM Hospital. “These meals are cooked in 3 community kitchens in Kolkata (Topsia/ Ballygunge/ Santoshpur). We propose to run this program for the crucial months of June, July and August, reaching 30,000 people each month”, adds Viraj, one of the volunteers of Mission Aamra.

As this period is quite life-threatening, it’s vital to have a healthy nutritious meal. On that aspect, Samita says, “for the cooked meals, we have consulted the doctors, and based on our research, meals provided are nutritious fed meals. For ration, we have regular vendors, where we source our ration packages. Each ration kit is sufficient for a family of four per month.

Dal offered as a part of ration kit by Mission Aamra
Dal offered as a part of ration kit by Mission Aamra

When asked about home deliveries, Bhavna replied: “Earlier, we started doing it, whoever wanted food, but then, we thought there was a greater need at these govt hospitals. Like we said, we were doing 1000 meals a day in the govt hospitals, but whoever does request us and comes forth and says we want food, we are affected by Covid, then, we try to put them across other people who are doing home delivery, because we are right now running out of capacity for distribution.”

As for ration packages, the organization distributes in the city as well as in the outskirts around the city. 730 ration packages are being distributed to daily wage earning families in Bankura District. The package contains rice, masoor dal, vegetable oil, soya nuggets and salt. “The ration package distribution to daily wage earning families is being expanded to distribute 10,000 ration packages over the months of June, July and August, 2021 in Bankura, Paschim Medinipur, Nadia and Murshidabad. We propose to add hygiene products (soaps, masks and women’s hygiene products) to the monthly kits.

Ration delivery on a truck
Ration delivery on a truck

When asked how they feel helping people amid times like these, Viraj replied: “It’s definitely very very satisfying, the fact that to give back to the people, but also, people are appreciative at the hospitals. This is definitely a need. Those smiles and words of encouragement from people, and people who walk by the street they come and they give us words of encouragement. So, it’s definitely gratifying and that’s probably what makes us go back daily to continue our distribution.

Adding to Viraj’s words, Bhavna added, in a sadden tone, “while we are distributing 1000 meals/day at the hospital, we still see that there are a lot of people who need food. Every time we go there, there are lines of people outside the car waiting to take the meals. But we see, when we complete our meals distribution in one particular location, there are 50-60 people who want food. We are trying to reach as many people as possible, but sometimes, it’s sad to see people walk away without meals.

Mission Aamra runs through funding from friends and families. If you’d like to contribute to the organization, get in touch with the team here.

3) Khaana Chahiye - Delivering 10,000 Meals And 1000 Grocery Kits Per Day

Khaana Chahiye is another non-profit organisation that came forward to rescue during the pandemic. This young organisation was started as a citizen driven relief operation by Ruben Mascarenhas, Anik Gadia, Pathik Muni, Swaraj Shetty, Shishir Joshi, Adv. Rakesh Singh, and Neeti Goel. So basically, Khaana Chahiye in colloquial Hindi means 'do you need food?' or could be a request 'we need food'.

The idea behind the organisation’s initiative was to provide immediate food relief to vulnerable communities/individuals suffering from extreme hunger across Mumbai as wages had been paused during the lockdown. In the first lockdown, they initiated cooked meals and family grocery kits. They distributed 46.5 lakh meals and 20,000 family grocery kits.

Team Thane conducted a grocery support drive for 200 families at Kalwa
Team Thane conducted a grocery support drive for 200 families at Kalwa

In the second lockdown, they started with 500 meals per day, and at peak they distributed 40,000 meals per day. Overall, 15 lakh meals and 28,000 grocery kits were delivered in the second lockdown, powered by a campaign focused in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Currently, 10,000 meals and 1000 grocery kits per day are delivered. Besides relief ops, they are also working with the BMC on the Hunger Map Project - a crisis management tool aimed at mapping critical clusters across the city.

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In the first lockdown, they covered only the Mumbai region, while in the second lockdown, they expanded to the Greater Mumbai region - Thane, New Mumbai, Bhayander, Vasai. “We have also reached out to SOS requests in tribal hamlets in Palghar and Thane districts. We have also shared our knowledge and experience with similar initiatives in Pune, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad where we learn from each other”, shares Swaraj.

We asked about the food sourcing and delivery part, about that, Neeraj said, “We don't do meals particularly for covid patients as there are other services available for them. Our focus is those who are in extreme economic distress. We work with a network of commercial and community kitchens across the Greater Mumbai region. They are spread out, so the food is sourced closer to the vulnerable communities. This makes it easier for our volunteers to collect and distribute the relief faster. The kitchens pack the food. We do one large meal a day (350-400 gms) except in the community kitchens.

Khaana Chahiye sent aid to more than 1500 families in tribal pockets in these areas
Khaana Chahiye sent aid to more than 1500 families in tribal pockets in these areas

Each cooked delivery package contains a 400 gms food packet which is a different balanced nutritious dish everyday, whereas the grocery kit contains rice, wheat flour, 3 types of dal, poha, salt, sugar, spices. “Our grocery kit can suffice for a family of 4 for 12-15 days”, added Neeraj. To look after deliveries and the distribution part, there are around 250 volunteers, both on ground and remote who are working and supporting the organization in several ways.

Ruben concluded on a positive: “Unlike last time when hunger was stark and visible, this year it's invisible in our day-to-day life. People are in distress. The ecosystem around the informal economy has been devastated. Hence, please start with your own home. Please support your domestic help, your watchman, cleanliness workers in your buildings and look beyond your bubble of privilege with empathy and kindness.

Khaana Chahiye organization runs primarily through crowdfunding. So, if you want to contribute, please visit the following crowdfunding campaign link here (Khaana Chahiye: Mumbai is battling hunger along with Covid-19. Again.) and show your support. You can check out their recent crowdfunding campaign here (The Official Liverpool Supporters Club Mumbai: Fundraiser to Support Khaana Chahiye Community Kitchen).

4) Vastra Aur Zindagiyan - “Served Food To 40,000+ People Living On The Roads

Vastra Aur Zindagiyan or VAZ was founded in 2019 by Alice Sharma, one of the survivors of the Uttarakhand tragedy that took place in 2013. The idea and belief behind this NGO is to make lives less vulnerable, and more bearable. 

“When you are exposed to situations that show you the very end of life, you transform. You become fearless. You learn gratitude. You learn how to go out of your way to help people. That’s how I came up with VAZ.” says Alice Sharma.

Feeding 350 people drive - Provided meals to unprivileged people
Feeding 350 people drive - Provided meals to unprivileged people

The organization also stepped up during this unfortunate period to aid the needy and covid patients out there. They have over 50 volunteers working with VAZ. So far, they have organized over 25 donation drives that were linked to creating awareness on covid 19 and its spread. Since pandemic, they have taken numerous initiatives to address the needs of the people during the pandemic.

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Case-in-point, “Free Covid Meals”, a VAZ initiative - through this, they have reached out to 2,500+ families and 3,600 individuals who were isolated and Covid+ve. “Feed The Helpless'”, another initiative by VAZ - through this, they served food to 40,000+ people living on the roads, and also assisted them by providing everything that’s essential during the covid19 period.

During the first wave of covid-19, the NGO reached 150000+ people, where they have provided them with meals and clothes. Along with that they have promoted the precautions that need to be taken during this crisis to the people living in slums, and provided them with sanitation kits, masks, and sanitizers. In the second wave, they have reached 35000+ people. So far, the organization has covered Delhi, NCR, and also has plans to expand it to multiple states and cities including Mumbai, Coimbatore, Punjab, Ahmedabad.

VAZ team providing tablets
VAZ team providing tablets

VAZ have also come up with a concept called “Covid Meals” for families and individuals who are covid+ve and isolated. “We have started this initiative because it gets really tough to prepare food for those who live alone and tested positive, or for the entire family who are tested positive. That’s why we started this concept to deliver meals at free of cost. We also started taking free orders from people over WhatsApp. The orders were passed on to the local vendors, we had the orders delivered to the doorstep with the help of multiple logistics and courier companies”, shares Alice Sharma, Founder of VAZ.

About the Covid Meals initiative, she shared the food they distribute, “We basically take orders in three slots- breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast we offer – Oats, curd, paranthas, sandwiches and/or eggs. For lunch dinner we offer these two combinations - 1) Aaloo jeera, chapattis, nutritious dal and/or egg curry rice. 2) nutritious dal and/or egg curry rice. (2) Mix daal, Soya veg, chapatis and rice. Till now we have served over 3,600 covid meals to the beneficiaries across Delhi NCR. We send out 350 meals on a daily basis on an average, depending on the demands that is directly proportional to the curve of covid cases in the city.

Some of the other initiatives taken by VAZ are distributing free masks, sanitizers and hand soaps to the unprivileged. Plus, when the pandemic was at its peak, this NGO got to the most vulnerable people and distributed health kits to the people who had little and/or no access to healthcare structures. It consisted of basic medicines, multivitamins, masks, and other essentials. They have also conducted various awareness campaigns in slum areas to promote covid appropriate behaviour.

VAZ team distributing meals
VAZ team distributing meals

As far as food packages, VAZ sources it from the local vendors. “The idea behind sourcing is to help and uplift the society in two ways simultaneously. We source the food packages from the vendors who have been the most adversely affected during the repeated lockdowns. So through our food donation campaigns, we are actually able to feed the helpless and along with that we sort of help these poor local vendors to sustain the lockdowns”, states Alice.

Alice concluded with a note: “For the ones who are getting free food deliveries from our side, I’d just say please don’t misuse the opportunity. Every meal eases someone’s struggle to food and moreover, once you get over this. Make sure you help people around you. Let’s come together, and preach humanity. That’s the only way we can fight through this. Collectively.

Vastra Aur Zindagiyan runs on crowdfunding. So, if you want to contribute, please get in touch with the team here. And to volunteer at VAZ, kindly visit the link here

5) Feeding From Far - “Distributing 2 Lakh Meals Per Week

Feeding From Far was first started as a community kitchen when the first janta curfew was announced back in March 2020. This young not-for-profit organisation based out of Mumbai was started by a hotel management graduate Paritosh Pant. 

He also runs a restaurant named “Too Much Drama”, which was shut down at the moment due to the pandemic hit. The whole organisation is supported by 250 volunteers on the ground and 25 volunteers off-ground.

A mother and son with relief kit distributed by Feeding From Far
A mother and son with relief kit distributed by Feeding From Far

I remember, I was going live on Facebook. We were making food, if you remember that point of time, everyone was going live and showing. But while I posted the photo of what I made, I was making bread, making pav, which was also symbolic because I was like, this is the staple diet for so many people, and they don’t have access to that as well. I put up a post, and a lot of people started replying that they’ll help with funds, resources, places, paper work, creating a page, etc. And that’s how Feeding From Far was born”, says Paritosh on how the organization started.

Now, as we know, every urban structure in the world has a unique model, Mumbai slums are one classic example. These communities were one among the many who were worsley hit by the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of them lost their lives, and also lost their way of earning money, making them jobless, and this eventually caused a hunger issue all over the place. In these tough times, this NGO stepped up and took several initiatives, first, helping the slums of Govandi in Mumbai. About the initiative, Paritosh said, “Basically, the idea is to empower these people with funds and resources, so that they can solve their hunger issue themselves. Create a model and slowly inspire more people to start a similar model in their areas.

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He also shared why he chose Govandi: “My experience with slums has always been that people there are way more close than normal. I wanted to use my hotel management degree in a better way. I have a way around food. I also studied kitchen. I just knew it’s not anything that I’m going to be serving food that’s not edible. And Govandi is a very dense slum clustered in the eaastern side of Mumbai, largest and oldest waste dumping ground, and according to the BMC, it also has the least life expectancy of 39 years of age. So the situation was anyway bad there, and now due to a lockdown it became fatal. Of course, I met interesting people there who want to work on the ground and I saw that these guys would be able to implement all these ideas. Also, one of the reasons why I chose Govandi.

Blue packets of hope
Blue packets of hope

So, when India went into a lockdown when the first wave hit, the NGO took the first initiative to serve home-cooked meals to the Govandi people. The whole project is crowd funded. The kitchen was on for the first 45 days. They used to cook pav bhaji (50% potatoes, 20% proteins, 20% of other vegetables, and 10% of fats and flavors). “It was a dry bhaji. Govandi is the biggest producer of pav, so more than 10 bakeries coordinate everyday and used to give four pav and bhaji inside it. That’s one meal per person and we used to do it twice a day for every family”, states Paritosh. In the first 45 days of lockdown, i.e. from April 2020 to mid May 2020, they served close to 4.5 lakh meals i.e. 1000 meals twice a day.

After that, they came up with the 2nd initiative, and this is when the migrants were protesting in our country. Not to forget, they were also the worst affected groups due to the pandemic situation. The NGO then started a small project to aid these migrants. “We basically made a healthy nutritious kit containing roasted chana, dates, ORS solution, Parle-G and distributed it to these migrants”, says Paritosh.

Feeding From Far volunteers packing haldi
Feeding From Far volunteers packing haldi

As funds are the fuel for NGOs, during this period, it’s not easy to boost the bank balance. So, they came with the third initiative, and also a less operation heavy one, i.e. distributing dry ration in Govandi. The ration package basically contains 7 kilos of rice, 7 kilos of aata, 1.5 kilos of any pulses, 1 kg sugar, 1 kg salt, 1 litre oil, 150 grams each of haldi and mirchi. Since the second wave, precisely from April 2021 to till now, the NGO has distributed more than 10 lakh meals. Currently, their goal is to distribute 2 lakh meals every week, and for the last two to three weeks, they have achieved their set benchmark.

When asked about food sourcing, he said “Our campaign is “700 rupees to feed a family of five for a week”, because that's what one ration package costs us. It includes every cost. No collaboration for food making. And this is completely run by the people of Govandi. I know vendors in Warshi where I can source and they give me a good rate because I have an existing relationship with them.”

However, the NGO has collaborated with TISS (Tata Institute Of Social Sciences) for research purposes. On that, Paritosh said, “TISS is our knowledge partner. They also have done an extensive survey in the last 4-5 months. They have surveyed over 26,000 houses in Govandi. The survey was to check what’s the level right now in terms of income group, hunger, what’s the requirement, kind of beneficiaries, etc. When the findings came, it was shocking. So that’s when we collaborated. Their beneficiary list and our beneficiary list together give us a goal of 2 lakh meals every week.

Some of our volunteers with rigour and determination
Some of our volunteers with rigour and determination

Although the organization doesn’t work for covid patients, but mainly focus on hunger issues, their criteria is clear from the start that if one has lost their livelihood due to lockdown and pandemic, and staying in Govandi, Feeding From Far makes sure that no one goes hungry.

Partiosh concluded with a note: “I would like to say, we are in a situation where we maintain the levels we have reached. Some really good reports have come on-ground. We literally saved a lot of lives in the last 1 year and 3 months of the project. And we continue feeding the people of Govandi through the people of Govandi till the end of the pandemic, and till the abnormal situation comes back to life.”

Feeding From Far runs on crowdfunding. So, if you want to contribute, please visit the following crowdfunding link here.

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