As the clock strikes noon, this small empty courtyard in Entally fills up with eager eyes and empty tummies. The promise of food has been bringing the hungry mouths from the neighbouring slums to this courtyard every afternoon since the beginning of the new year. It’s a strange mix here — Christian nuns feed Hindus and Muslims of all ages from the neighbouring slums. They eat and share out of each other’s plates and create a picture of complete harmony that could be a testament to vouch for in these troubled times.
We are talking about the food ATM installed by the nuns of the Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre at Loreto Convent Entally. The initiative was undertaken to feed slum dwellers of the neighbouring Tangra, Motijheel, Dhapa and Palmer Bazar areas. A little under 200 people, mostly kids, are fed lunch now. But the volunteers are hopeful that with more help coming in, they will be able to feed more people soon.
For the moment, Loreto schools on Elliot Road and at Entally and Bowbazar are collecting, pooling and ferrying food to the food ATM. Loreto School Dharamtala has also pledged to contribute to the initiative. Students of these schools have been divided into batches. Under the supervision of teacher coordinators, they bring fresh, clean, home-cooked food, packed in containers ready to be distributed to the slum dwellers as they walk in. Every name is recorded in the register maintained at the ATM.
“They sit around the courtyard to eat. We provide fresh drinking water, an egg and a banana each, along with the home-cooked food and do not allow them to carry it away. We make them sit there and eat everything because we know that carrying back the food can lead to wastage,” said director of the centre Monica Suchiang, who designed the programme.
There’s quite a variety on the menu and no two plates are similar. If Salma Khatoun got a plate of biryani, Baby Singh may have got khichdi and subzi. No one is so selfish that s/he won’t share. In fact, they are happy sharing. On Thursday afternoon, 15-year-old ragpicker Zuber shared his fried rice and chilli chicken with friend and fellow ragpicker Raju who had got puri sabzi along with the egg and banana. “Hum log sab mil baant kar khate hain yahan. Memsaab log ek time ka pet bhar ke khana dete hain. (We eat together and happily share our food. Madams here fill our bellies once a day),” Zuber said.
Schoolchildren who donate the food, bring in whatever is cooked at home. This is why no two children’s food pack are the same. Hence, the variety in the meals served. “We are happy that every child is eager to help. Each week, one class has to bring in food just once. Every child brings enough to feed one hungry mouth,” explained Nandini Bhattacharya, a teacher at Loreto Elliot Road, who is coordinating for her school. The centre’s cafeteria also cooks and serves thalis of rice, daal and subzi for the food ATM.
Source: Times of India