Published: 02nd October 2019
No Food Waste: How these Coimbatore youngsters will collect your surplus food and feed the hungry
Dinesh Manickam, the co-founder of No Food Waste, talks about why they are collecting surplus food from people and using that to feed the needy — and the hungry
When my nephew was in Kindergarten, his teacher used to regularly check his lunch box. If any of the kids happened to have leftover food, they would be made to finish it! One fine day, that poor little child did not like his lunch, and he carefully packed his leftover food in his snack box. But he was unlucky and his teacher ended up checking his snack box as his lunch box was suspiciously clean! Now, this gentleman is 10 years old and he tries not to waste food as he still remembers the day when he was caught red-handed.
Checking your kid's lunch box and making them finish their lunch is kind of easy. But what will you do if you have kilograms of palatable food leftover from a function you attended? Of course, it is not humanly possible to eat it all up! All you can do is to call the helpline number of No Food Waste! You heard it right - it is an initiative started by a few youngsters who hated working in companies after their graduation in Production Engineering at Government College of Technology, Coimbatore! Spearheaded by Padmanabhan Gopalan, the NGO was started in the year 2014 by co-founder Dinesh Manickam and a few other like-minded youngsters. Dinesh takes us to the inner side of their initiative. Excerpts from the interview:
How did you first get the idea of starting No Food Waste?
This is not our first initiative. We were focusing on giving STEM-based education to kids. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. We used to discuss global issues during these sessions. During one such session, we were discussing topics like global hunger and food wastage when one student came up with the question, "Are there any organisations which provide abundant food to the needy?" We began hunting for such organisations and our search went in vain! Hence, we decided to start such a venture so that we can be a trigger of sorts to the upcoming generations. We started it in Coimbatore and at present, we have 10 chapters across Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Can you talk to us more about your team?
The core team has 15 members which include the founding members as well. There are nearly 25 to 50 volunteers in each of our chapters. For major cities like Chennai and Coimbatore, we have hired two people for managing the collection and distribution of food on a daily basis.
During our initial days, an anonymous person sent a vehicle with food-graded vessels. He gave a letter to that driver which stated 'You are working for a good cause in Coimbatore. I would like to support you but I don't want to reveal myself. Further support shall follow'. Till today we don't know who that person is. He is an unknown well-wisher
Dinesh Manickam, Co-founder, No Food Waste
How do you transport the surplus food?
We transport the food using a simple 'four-step model'. Anybody living in cities where we operate can contact us through our helpline number. We have individual WhatsApp groups for each city, and the person in the call centre will intimate the details of the donor in that group. The city-coordinator will then follow up with the donor. With the help of staff members and volunteers, the food delivery vehicle will travel to the destination to collect the food. For distribution, we have marked certain hunger spots which are pre-identified and geo-tagged. These places include GH, slums, homeless people, orphanages etc. We manage to feed about 900 to 1000 people every day!
Safely packed: The collected food is safely packed in food-grade vessels (Pic: No Food Waste)
How do you make sure that the quality of the food being served is acceptable?
A standard questionnaire is set and the donor is requested to answer the same. The temperature of the food is also monitored. Once the quality check is done, the food is taken for distribution in food-grade vessels. The volunteers wear hand gloves, caps and masks while collecting the food to ensure hygiene! Before distribution, the volunteers will check the food quality once again. If the food quality is not good, the food will be rejected at the source itself. In this case, we advise the donors to give it to some wet waste management centre so that it can be used for making manure or used in biogas plants.
What do you do if the donor has a small amount of food to offer but still wishes to contribute?
We have made arrangements so that even a single plate of food is not wasted. We have set F&B ATMs (Food and Beverage ATMs) at restaurants and hotels in and around Chennai and Coimbatore. Anyone can store their surplus food in it and the needy can feed from it. If the number of plates is low, say less than 50, then our volunteers will collect the food in their two-wheelers.
Quality first: The food quality is checked before the collection and distribution of food (Pic: No Food Waste)
What are your future prospects?
Our ultimate aim is to put an end to hunger and food wastage! We are trying to pair up with food 'sources' like Swiggy. We are also planning to initiate NFC - National Food Corps just like the National Cadet Corps (NCC) in schools. This will help students to know more about food distribution to the needy, and the correct handling of leftovers. We are trying to create a curriculum for NFC and then we will be approaching the government body to implement the same.
If someone wants to volunteer, what roles can they get?
Based on their availability, they can volunteer on a daily, weekly or a monthly basis. They can volunteer for the collection and distribution of food. They can also help in spreading awareness in schools.
Can you talk to us about your achievements?
In March 2019, we received the 'Commonwealth Youth Awards' for Asian regions. In August 2019, we received the 'National Youth Award'. We also received the 'State Youth Award' for the year 2016-17