Supratik Chhaperia is all of 25 and owns a designer cake shop in South Delhi. When the lockdown was announced in March, like for countless others, his world went topsy-turvy as operations shut down abruptly. His immediate thought however was not about his business, but to reach out to alleviate the distress of daily wage workers, the community hit the hardest during this period.
Donating money to an NGO seemed like the easiest way to go, but this young man wanted to do something more meaningful. In no time, he got fourteen of his friends together to pool in about INR 500 each and started preparing and distributing meals like khichdi.
“I was initially apprehensive about venturing out and exposing myself to the virus but then I overcame my fear,” he says. And then, when he saw the sheer number of people struggling to fend for two square meals a day, he immediately realized that this was the need of the hour. “We were willing to put in the effort but gathering funds to sustain this on a daily basis, still posed a challenge. So, we turned to social media to ask for donations.” Money started pouring in from generous citizens and the initiative got rolling with about ten people.
Preparing meals was not a challenge. They initially called a cook and then outsourced it to a kitchen that dished out wholesome and nutritious north Indian staples like kadi-chawal, chana-chawal and khichdi. They would hand out 400 to 500 meals a day, with the help of the Delhi Police.
But helping people in the most efficient way was still a learning curve. As reports of migrants trudging back to their villages tugged at his heart, one day, Supratik decided to stand along the highway to hand out food packets. “We stood with about 500 meals but we did not find enough people. We finally gave the food to a school for the blind, so that it would not go waste,” he recalls.
Then they ventured into city slums and low income areas and realized that many had kitchens but could not keep the fires going because money to buy rations had run out. “So we swapped food with dry rations in mid-April. We thought that would be a better idea,” says Supratik.
He buys rations from a wholesale shop close to his home, packs the kits in his house and distributes them with the help of the police. One ration kit includes 5 kg wheat flour, 2 kg rice, half kg lentils, 2 kg potatoes, half kg mustard oil, salt, spices like turmeric, chilies, coriander powder and one soap bar. “This would suffice for a family of four, for about ten days. Till now we have given out 1200 kg of flour, 500 kg of rice, 160-170 kg of pulses, 450 kg of potatoes and 110 kg of mustard oil,” he says with a sense of pride.
He has a busy day that keeps him on his toes as he arranges funds, buys rations, prepares kits, loads it in his car and hands it to the police for distribution. To ensure that it is reaching the right people, Delhi Police would send pictures of the food being distributed.
And it does not stop at that – he has even donated food for animals, probably the most ignored species in this lockdown. Till now they have managed to give 550 kg of dog food to various animal shelters and have also fed about 300 kg of spinach to cows around their area.
He recalls one specific incident that gave him goose bumps. “My friend called to suggest that we could also donate to a lady in Meharchand market, who feeds dogs every day. He planned to visit her the next day, but I pushed him to go immediately because I felt there must be some reason why the thought had struck him today.” As it turned out, the lady had run out of food for the dogs on that very day and told them that she had been praying that the animals she was looking after don’t go hungry.
His work and efforts are being recognized outside the country as well - donations have even come in from Dubai and Australia.
“I don’t think I can stop now. This will be an ongoing effort. Even after we put this pandemic behind us, my friends and I plan to help as many people as we can, for as long as we can,” he tells us with a quiet sense of satisfaction.