In India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh a group of volunteers are packing boxes of home-cooked bread and vegetable curry.
A sign board in Hindi outside the room reads Roti Bank or Bread Bank.
Tara Patkar is the manager.
“The Banks that people usually know deal with money. But Roti Bank is different. It deals with bread, rice vegetables and other food items. The aim of this bank is nobody should be hungry. So we take food from those who have it and give it to those who can’t afford it,” he said.
India is home to the largest number of hungry people in the world.
Several government funded programs and a national food security law have done little to alter the situation.
The Roti Bank began its work earlier this year and initially focused on the people begging for food at the local railway station.
Visually challenged Chandabai and her family of five would often go without food but now they get it home-delivered.
“Earlier people often ignored our pleas for food. But now with this roti bank we don’t have to worry for food. We get enough without even asking for it,” she said.
The Roti bank operates through dozens of dedicated volunteers who go door to door collecting home cooked food from local residents.
They then gather it at their 6 offices, pack it, and then deliver to the needy.
The bank maintains a register with the details of all those needing their assistance.
Mohammad Asgar is one of the volunteers. He says the work gives him true happiness and peace of mind.
“What we get from this work is something that we can’t get by praying in a mosque or a temple. This is a service to humanity and there can be nothing more fulfilling than serving the fellow human beings,” he said.
The Roti Bank began with just 14 families contributing food to it. But after two months the number of contributing households has reached several hundred.
Similarly the number of beneficiaries has grown to more than five hundred.
Lali Devi is among the bank’s first contributors.
She doesn’t wait for the volunteers to arrive at her door instead she walks 2 kilometer every day to deliver the food herself at the bank office.
“Theirs is so much of poverty here. People are dying of hunger. And if our little contribution to this bank can keep someone alive nothing should hold us back from doing that,” she said.
Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s most populous and poorest states.
It is also a region where the largest numbers of communal riots take place.
The roti bank thus has also become a symbol of communal harmony with both Hindus and Muslims working together to ensure that no one goes to sleep with an empty stomach.
Haji Mustan, one of the bank’s founders says it’s model for other places.
“If other people also do their bit in their areas I’m sure we can soon make hunger-free India a reality,” he said.
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