Mumbai’s ‘food army’ sends 84,250 theplas to flood-hit Gujarat residents | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Mumbai’s ‘food army’ sends 84,250 theplas to flood-hit Gujarat residents

Food Army members expected 30,000 theplas to be donated on Wednesday. They got 54,250 more

mumbai Updated: Aug 04, 2017 17:04 IST
Gayle Sequeira
Members of Food Army sorting through thepla packets at founder Rintu Rathod’s house in Santacruz (West) on Wednesday.
Members of Food Army sorting through thepla packets at founder Rintu Rathod’s house in Santacruz (West) on Wednesday.(HT Photo)

“We just want them to get a good home-cooked meal,” said Rintu Rathod, founder of Food Army, a charitable group in Mumbai. At her flat in Santacruz (West), the number of theplas — a spicy Indian flatbread — vastly outnumber the number of people sorting through them on Wednesday evening. There are 3,371 packets, each containing 25 theplas, to be sent to Gujarat’s flood-hit Banaskantha district. And only 25 people.

Still, they make quick work of the task, scrutinising packets they collected from residents of 41 localities across the city between 8am and 5pm that day. Theplas that are stale, undercooked or too oily will be set aside. The rest will be packed in cartons and sent to Ahmedabad via tempo, where the district collector and her team will distribute them, assisted by the National Disaster Response Force and the Border Security Force on Thursday evening.

‘Response was overwhelming’
  • Food Army members expected 30,000 theplas to be donated on Wednesday. They got 54,250 more.
  • As many as 41 centres were set up for the drive, including eight in south Mumbai and 22 in the western suburbs.
  • “The response was overwhelming. We set aside just one of 3,371 packets as the theplas were burnt,” said Rintu Rathod, founder.
  • The group also received 65 gunny bags of clothes, 130kg sugar and 30kg jaggery.
  • “I’ve been a donor since the beginning. I had sent a packet to the collection centre at Santacruz (West) and was happy to hear that the turnout was good,” said Renu Raniwala, who works for a manufacturing firm.

The practised ease with which the group works tells you that this is not the first time they have undertaken such a mammoth challenge. In 2014, they got Mumbaiites to donate 35,000 theplas, which were sent to flood-hit Kashmir residents.

“I read about the floods and decided to do something to help those who were suffering. I realised that whenever there is a calamity, the Indian army is the first to reach the spot. However, army members usually distribute biscuits and other dry items. I wanted Kashmir residents to enjoy a hot meal instead,” said Rathod.

She texted 10 of her friends, asking them to contribute 25 freshly made theplas each. Why theplas? It’s a nod to Rathod’s Gujarati roots.

Her friends, in turn, forwarded the text to everyone in their phones’ contact lists, and soon the original message — which included a step-by-step recipe — went viral. With the help of her friend, who runs an NGO in Kashmir, Rathod ensured that few locals went hungry that night.

The success of this mission encouraged the group to undertake several more. During the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the group sourced a staggering 1 lakh theplas, which they vaccum-packed to ensure a longer shelf life. In December that year, they sent 30,000 theplas to Chennai residents affected by the floods. Both times, they roped in NGOs to help them with distribution.

“When we started out, we planned to transport the theplas via flight and even offered to pay airline officials for the excess baggage. However, they were touched and told us this was the first time they had heard of such an initiative. They have been transporting our theplas for free since then,” said Rathod.

Theplas loaded onto the tempo, which started for Ahmedabad on Wednesday night. (HT Photo)

Now, the group has 1,000 members across the city. New ones sign up daily, many of whom were among Wednesday’s donors. “There were several familiar faces at the collection centre in Ghatkopar. We collected around 3,200 theplas, 10 bags of clothes, one bag of toys and one of shoes,” said electrical engineer Yogesh Zaveri, who has been a member of the group since its inception.

Homemaker Neetu Singh, in charge of the collection centre at Bandra (West), said the turnout there was lower, which she attributes to a lack of awareness. “We usually send out mass text messages, listing the collection centres and their addresses, two to three days before the drive. However, this time, we sent the texts a day before. Still, I estimate that I collected around 600 theplas and two boxes of clothes,” she said.

By the time you read this, the cartons will be well on their way to Banaskantha and thousands will be comforted by Rathod’s “good home-cooked meals” once more.