‘Feed the Needy’: A Mother and Son’s Food Donation Drive in the Pandemic

Since May, 26-year-old Harsh Mandavia and his mother Heena Mandavia have been distributing home-cooked food to those living on the streets and other public places, in and around Kandivali, Mumbai.

Harsh has been working alongside his mother, who runs ‘Harsh Thalis and Parathas’ – a social enterprise which serves meals at a nominal cost – since 2015. Heena first launched the service in 1998.

During the initial phase of the lockdown, orders from students and healthcare workers started pouring in. It was around that time that Harsh kickstarted the food donation drive – ‘Feed the Needy’ – and as of October 6, has managed to put out 13,500 meals, including 35,000 tawa rotis and 6,000 sugarfree home-made sweets (gujrati gur papdi and churma laddoo). The enterprise, which has nine volunteers on its roster, prides itself for not using any preservatives or frozen ingredients, and the whole wheat rotis are made fresh.

Harsh with volunteers with ‘Feed the Needy’. Photo: special arrangement

How it began

“In April, we started getting calls from nearby hospitals asking for food for doctors and nurses on duty. Also, a lot of bachelors and students who didn’t know how to cook started calling us. That’s when we realised that despite having rations and money, many people were facing difficulties when it came to food,” Harsh said. “So we could only begin to imagine what the condition of those who were unemployed, jobless and without any resources would be.”

A few days later, a regular customer, Abhinav Choudhary, asked if he could donate some money to feed around 100 people. Harsh packed thalis consisting of roti, daal and sabzi and went to a place outside a gurudwara in Malad to distribute the meals to over a 100 people.

Harsh distributing meals. Photo: special arrangement

Harsh had uploaded pictures of the first food donation drive on Instagram. Gradually, people started donating money. As of October 24, the food drive had received more than Rs 8 lakh in donations from over nine countries.

The response, Harsh says, has been overwhelming, with people eagerly waiting for his arrival every single day. He says that people queue up as soon as they see his car approaching and they make way for the car shouting, “Roti aa gaya, roti aa gaya (food has come, food has come).”

“While distributing the sabzi, it was really saddening to hear one person say: ‘Thoda zyaada sabzi de dijiye, ghar pe bacchon ko bhi khilana hai, unko baahar nahi la sakte, risk ho jayega unki jaan pe (Please give me a little more food, I have to feed the kids at home since we can’t risk them stepping out)’.”

On weekends, they also visit old age homes and orphanages to distribute not just their signature meal but also methi laddoos, which are prepared by Harsh’s mother. The laddoos are especially made for old people who can’t eat sugar.

“While we were serving methi laddoos at the old age home, one elderly uncle raised his hand to bless me and said ‘aashirwaad’. That moment still gives me goosebumps. I felt that it was the blessing for the entire social media family who has backed this cause and has brought smiles to so many people,” he said.

Harsh at an old age home. Photo: special arrangement

How did it start?

For Harsh and his mother, empathy has been a byproduct of their lives. In 1998, Harsh’s father died in a car accident. His mother needed to find a way to earn to raise Harsh, who was just five at the time.

Meena Ruwala, a neighbour, advised Heena to start a small tifin service which would provide lunch to working professionals in the area. Gradually, Heena started getting more orders. Harsh, who was six at that time, began helping her with deliveries. In return, customers would teach Harsh English and Math.

Heena Mandavia preparing food. Photo: special arrangement

Later on, with the help of a regular customer, Heena decided to open a restaurant in Kandivali in 2003.

“When I started the service, it was not to mint money from the business and open ten other outlets , it was to earn enough to provide Harsh a good education and to lead a simple life. This kept me going,” she said.

Presently, they are focused on providing food prepared in hygienic conditions while ensuring the safety of workers, some of whom who were hired during the pandemic. The donations, on the other hand, continue coming in from all corners of the world.

As of now, Harsh plans to do more of such ‘Feed the Needy’ drives in other states as well for those interested in donating food in other areas as well.

“We don’t see things normalising anytime soon for the unemployed and needy , so with the donations coming in, we wish to keep the cause going on for as long as possible,” said Harsh. “Ma and I have just been a medium in connecting the donors to the needy.”

If you wish to make a donation to ‘feed the needy’, you can do so by clicking here.

Featured image: special arrangement