Mumbai-based Harsh Mandavia, who otherwise runs a modest delivery kitchen, didn't think a social media post would make a difference for 3,200 needy people in Malad. However, when donations began pouring in, he decided to take it upon himself to do a good deed during these trying times.
Harsh, who works alongside his mother Heena Mandavia, decided to shut shutters at 'Harsh Thali & Parathas' after the COVID-19 outbreak in Mumbai. "We sent most of our staff members back home, but soon enough, we began getting calls from customers who weren't able to cook food at home," Harsh told Sakal Times. "So, that's how we reopened the delivery kitchen -- with two staff members," he adds.
While the duo has been receiving orders since March, it was only in May when they decided to take up the opportunity of feeding the needy in their immediate vicinity.
"In the initial days of May, one of our customers, Abhinav Chaudhary, came to us and said he wants to feed 100 people. He wanted to donate but didn't want to go out looking for people to feed, as it was risky," says Harsh. "We agreed to take it up is, as we run a delivery kitchen," he adds.
After a little research, Harsh came across an NGO Sukh Karta Dukh Harta Mitra Mandal who was conducting food-distribution drives in Malad East.
"I got in touch with them to feed those 100 people," he states. "However, after I uploaded a post to bring it to people's notice, I began receiving calls from well-wishers who wanted to contribute to this cause," he says.
In two days' time, Harsh received Rs 11,000 donation. "That encouraged me, and I put up another post after three days, and more money started pouring in. Gradually, as I continued posting updates, the donations came to 50,000 and 70,000. And it didn't even stop at Rs 2 lakh," he says.
For a humble delivery kitchen with two staff members, the task of feeding 3,000 people could have been a challenge; however, the duo makes it a point to start early in the day to get their work started. "Two of my staff members begin as early as 9 AM, so by noon the food is ready to be served," he states. "Our menu consists of roti, sabzi, dal and rice -- each one of these is made in-house."
Keeping in mind the hygiene concerns, Harsh and Heena both have made sure their staff stays indoors and practises sanitary habits. "We haven't allowed our staff to go out, due to obvious reasons," he says. "They've been in isolation for the past two months."
Harsh and his mother then transport this food to Malad East, where they put up a counter for easy distribution.
"We don't discriminate between our customers and the needy, they get the same food," he tells us. "We serve Jain food, and the Tawa roti we make is made using atta -- keeping people's health in mind. There's no compromising on the quality," he adds, reassuringly.
And while the duo makes it a point to take all possible precautions before heading outside, there's a looming fear of contracting the virus, especially considering the delicate position Mumbai finds itself in.
"A lot of my well-wishers and relatives keep asking me, why do you have to take the risk of going out at a time like this?" says Harsh. "But my mom has always shut down my relatives by reassuring them that I take proper precautions and am also trying to do a good deed," he adds.
"While we were a little sceptical about going outside during the cyclone, we ended up going anyway after we realised that the hungry don't care about the weather conditions -- because they're starving. Nowadays, we find the queue waiting for us, even before we get there," he tells us.
"They come from all over the city, some hail from the slum areas, there are watchmen on duty, rickshaw drivers -- some of these people don't have a family, so they come looking for food. We don't count as to who's standing in the queue for the first or second time -- if there's someone standing there, we feed them," he states.
Harsh plans to keep the activity going until the 15th of July.
Harsh Thali & Parathas, whose tagline is 'Mom Makes, Son Sells', was started in the year 1999. The delivery kitchen that is situated in Kandivali East caters to customers in their neighbourhood.