A solutions focussed article on the Robin Hood Army; a visionary initiative vying to fight hunger and food wastage.
Parched mouths quivering against the wind
jaws dropped in feigned awe
And tongues restricted,
There is a drought.
The mind has stopped
Searching for food
But the tongue still aches it;
And fancies mighty floods
In the roots of the dry
They are hungry.
Blurred shapes are flashing past
In their ignorant haze,
With focused sympathising gazes
But their pity mocks,
Their hands are shackled.
But the hand springs free
To overpower and dump.
There are 850 million hungry people. That’s 850 million people desperately rummaging through unhygienic, rotten pits trying to find treasure in the ungrateful man’s trash. 850 million people who don’t know when they’ll next eat food. And astonishingly, the problem is not the lack of food. The problem is the ‘consistent facilitation’ of food or just consistently making food available to those who need it. More people die out of hunger each year than malaria, AIDS and terrorism combined. As ruthless as it is, passing off real lives as merely figures, it's even more inhumane that human beings are being denied things as basic as food solely because they can’t afford it. The rich’s plate is bejewelled with seven different courses and the fork is lifted as per their whims and fancies, while there are vulnerable people who can meekly lift their heads to seek any food, but in vain.
Like Robin Hood Does It
There are people who amidst their suffering, see other people’s suffering and lend their hand to bring about positive change. The Robin Hood Army (RHA) is one such organisation that strongly empathises with the issue of hunger, and is committed to solve it merely for the satisfaction of serving humanity and the smiles they get out of it. It is an impassioned, zero-funds, volunteer-driven organisation that works to get surplus food from restaurants and the community to serve the less fortunate people. Their vision is simple, they strive to beat global hunger and uplift the lesser fortunate by bringing together diverse communities.
I had the opportunity to interact with Saloni Sharma, Growth Lead at the Robin Hood Army.
When asked about the name of the organisation, whether it's modelled after the literature character or not; she explained,
‘He (Robin Hood) stole from the rich and gave it to the poor. We’re not stealing, but we’re sort of doing that. We’re taking food from contributors who can afford it, from restaurant partners who have it in surplus, from communities that get together and give it to those who are less fortunate.’
The Robin Hood Army has been modelled after the Re-Food Program in Portugal, as it started its first chapter in Delhi in August of 2014. Their mission is to create self-sustained local chapters across the world, who will look after their community and serve those who most need it. They’ve managed to set up local chapters across 13 countries, 406 cities and served more than 137,557,145 meals. But they share,
‘On the army’s first night of distribution, we realised that helping the less fortunate may feel good personally, but feeding 50 odd people at night, once a week would not create any real difference in a country where millions are starving.’ Hunger is an acute problem. We needed to reach out to more people, more restaurants, and more cities - our deadline being yesterday.’
The less privileged sections of society they serve include homeless families, orphanages, old age homes, and patients from public hospitals. The RHA is entirely run by self-motivated, impassioned individuals who understand the gory depth of the problem and keep pushing themselves to do more and reach out to more people. They keep iterating that, ‘Only 1% is done.’
The Army is driven by volunteers who are initially given the title of Cadet Robins, but once they attend a minimum of 3 food drives, they’re promoted to Robins in the passionate army. The Robins are largely students and empowered individuals who aspire to give back to society. Furthermore, the Robins are not certified for their work because they believe that Robins must serve the less fortunate because of their feeling of empathetic duty and not merely to polish their resumes.
Saloni ma’am shared how the RHA initially reached out to people using the boon of technology,
‘We leveraged our social media, Facebook page and then all of us would share our every post. And we’d ask our friends and family to join and by word of mouth, and the RHA just kept growing.’
Talking about how they set up new chapters across different cities, she shared, ‘Those cities were like our babies; for example I set up a chapter in Kolhapur. So you know, setting up that chapter in Kolhapur, ensuring its running, ensuring they’re having a drive every Sunday, ensuring the Robins (volunteers) are all okay; and everybody has roles.’
Sharing her personal journey, as first a Robin and then becoming a part of the fiery core team, Saloni ma’am shared,
‘I remember standing there (after serving khichdi to a hungry man) and the world just pausing for me there. That feeling of the first drive that I went for in RHA, that feeling is still there, eight years down the line. When I wear this green t-shirt, I still feel that passion, I still feel like I need to do this. This is an issue. Never during my tenure with the RHA, had I ever felt that should I not (do this)?’ ‘I was always like- yeah, let’s do this!’
She also shared how the Robin Hood Army has weekly Sunday drives, where the Robins serve food supplied by restaurants or food partners to the community. ‘Two-three hours every Sunday became a part of life,’ for her and the Robins and the Sunday drive became seamlessly entwined in their lives.
‘Something or the other happened. But the drive in me and the passion that I felt towards this so high that I needed to keep going,’ she said with a glimmer in her eyes.
When asked about the challenges the organisation faces, she shared that the problems are dynamic like the ever-evolving cities and individuals they serve along with the Robins. Saloni ma’am shared that ‘sometimes food partners are not available or volunteers are not available, then what do you do?’ But that wasn’t an obstacle in the Army’s path that they couldn’t crush.
Ma’am would bring along her mother and buy a dozen boxes of ‘frooti’ (juice boxes) and just serve that to the community, because as she puts it, ‘the passion brimming inside of her needed to have a drive, no matter what.’
Another instance she shared was that the RHA had an unmanned email address, through which many food organisations and restaurants would reach out and share food requests. Since it wasn’t being checked, the RHA was losing out on food partners and more importantly, food was going to waste. It was, in fact, Saloni ma’am who manned that email address and as she shared, ‘I was working the entire time but I also had that email ID open side by side,’ as she’d juggle between her motherhood duties, professional life and her passionate eyre.
I want a world
Where people starve their life
Of a satin dress
To see the world sleeping full tonight
And not just today.
Hunger is being deprived of something so basic yet renders people so vulnerable. Let’s vie for a world where no-one sleeps hungry, but consume nutritious meals every day. Let’s vie for a world that’s an advocate of the fight against hunger. Let’s vie for a world where people volunteer their time to bring a smile on someone else’s face. As Robin Hood Army puts it, let's vie for a world where the best is brought out of humanity with food as a medium.
Written by Aasmaa Sri Garg