For 25-year-old, Chennai-based Ashwanth Kumar, food is the most direct way of spreading joy.
He founded The Bhai Friend, a catering business, about four years ago. However, all operations came to a halt during the 2020 COVID lockdown. “I thought, why not cook something and share it with people in need?” he tells The Better India.
Soon, demand rose. Supported by his friends, he packed about 700 bags of food to distribute among the underprivileged and COVID patients over the past two years. He did this as part of the Pankajam Charity, a unit of the Bhai Friend catering business.
“Whatever profits I make from Bhai Friend go to Pankajam,” he says. Besides this, he also gets donations that help keep the charity afloat.
In his endeavours, he has been inspired by his late grandmother Pankajam Swaminathan, who always set an example of kindness and generosity for him.
Recalling how his grandmother performed small acts of kindness, he says, “Suppose we had to go to the temple, we’d travel by auto rickshaw. She would often give the driver an extra Rs 10 or more. She wasn’t too rich, but did all this with her own pension money, which wasn’t much — about Rs 5,000. That was very inspiring for me.”
It was the very home his grandmother was living in that Ashwanth started his work. The community kitchen offers meals for between Rs 15 and Rs 20, but gives them out for free to those who cannot afford them.
“It’s all unlimited,” he says about serving sizes.
On Mondays and Fridays they serve sambhar rice, curd rice, and veg biryani, with some poriyal and pickle. Tuesdays and Saturdays, they serve full meals including rice, sambhar, rassam, poriyal, and pickle, and so on. “Around 200 to 250 people come to us every day.”
All this food is cooked by homemakers. For instance, wives and sisters of delivery boys work in the kitchen. “We have chefs to guide them, but they’re all homemakers, and we’re creating opportunities for them. They were idle before, to bring them out we’ve done this.”
Viji, one of the women working at the kitchen, now earns Rs 300 every day. “If it was somewhere else, I would not be comfortable working. But here, surrounded by food, I feel comforted,” she says. “I don’t see this as a job, I see myself as serving people, that’s why I like it so much,” she adds.
In continuing his work today, Ashwanth is also supported by the rest of the family who sometimes volunteer to serve food at the kitchen. “They didn’t ask me for any profits or to earn a certain amount,” he adds.
Food is also how he suggests other people spread kindness. “Food, I saw, was the most important thing during the pandemic. People may have shelter and all, but the one thing everyone required was food,” he notes. “So to help everyone, we decided to focus on food.”
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Edited by Divya Sethu