A Month And A Week Of Good Food And Great Community Service

On the 10th of June, 2020, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) wound up its Food Program that it ran for a month and a week… 

Within a few weeks of the imposed lockdown, even as the BBP’s Helpline fell in place, the BPP struggled with the challenge of providing good, wholesome food to members of the community, some of whom were even willing to pay for the food, as they had been rendered helpless with the abrupt shutting down of regular food suppliers and domestic help, as Mumbai came to an unprecedented halt.

It took a few weeks for the BPP to get its act together and start the community kitchen. Prior to starting the kitchen, community members were provided food by kindly neighbours, with about 70 odd people being supplied food by the BPP, generally purchased from various local kitchens. At the time, most of the food provided was vegetarian and some of it was distributed in unappetising plastic bags. 

Thanks to the largesse of the Trustees of Cama Baug, the Cama Baug kitchen was made available to the BPP for this scheme. Renowned caterer, Jimmy Gadiwalla, volunteered to run this kitchen, personally taking charge of both – purchase of the raw material and the preparation of the meals. 

Delivering (literally) on Jimmy’s efforts, a group of amazingly dedicated volunteers took over. While South and South-Central Mumbai (Tardeo / Grant Road area, upto Fort) was looked after by dynamic volunteers from Zoroastrian Colony and Jimmy himself, a bulk of the food-packages were distributed by the youth of Navroz Baug. A group of 12-15 volunteers banded together, like well-oiled machinery, distributing 50% of all the food packages to areas, including Byculla, Mazgaon, Lal Baug, Parel and Dadar.

Again, three volunteers from Bandra and Andheri took care of the distribution, right from Bandra to Borivali. This humongous effort started with the food being picked up from Cama Baug by four volunteers at around 10:30 am in the morning; and community members across Mumbai city, right from Colaba to Borivili, receiving their food before 1:30 pm!

A lot has been written about the dabbawalas of Mumbai, but our band of volunteers surely gave them a run for their money – any day and every day – including the two days, when Cyclone Nisarga had hit Mumbai and the city was hit by torrential showers in the morning and afternoon. 

What must certainly be said, so that it does not get lost in the focus of these commendable distribution efforts, is that, in many cases, the people receiving the food, were so old that the volunteers had to go up to their doorstep and even help emptying the packages into vessels. Going even beyond that for a few of our super seniors, the volunteers physically fed them the food and even washed the vessels and kept them away, before leaving their house! It must also be said that our volunteers spent their own money on travel and other incidental expenses as well as on the purchase of consumables like chocolates, biscuits and small food packets, as well as on medicines for our seniors  – all from their own pockets, over and above what was being provided by the BPP. This unparalleled level of compassion and dedication by our volunteers redefines the concept of community service and reinforces the Parsi bastion of benevolence and philanthropy.

My address would be incomplete without the mention of the role played by BPP Trustees. We discussed, we disagreed and argued passionately, but came true to the fore and delivered, when all the chips were down. 

When the lockdown came into place, the Trustees set into motion the Helpline, which was backed by numerous Baug-level volunteer groups and committees, as well as central volunteer groups. Quite a few doctors and other skilled professionals also volunteered their services, despite the precarious conditions caused by the increasing outbreak of the novel coronavirus. 

The BPP Trustees came together as a unit and ensured, against all odds, that timely help and sustenance was provided to all our humdins who were in need. Packages of food grains were distributed, medicines were purchased and provided to them; even their requirements of non-essential items like fruits, butter, cheese, etc, were met by the BPP Trustees. Those who were in need of monetary assistance were also provided periodic financial help, to meet their requirements. 

The food distribution was only a logical extension of what was started early into the lockdown. The food scheme lasted for exactly a month and a week. What started on the 4th of May, came to an end on the 10th of June, with an auspicious ‘Farewell Meal’, which included the sagan ni sev. The scheme was wound down in keeping with the facts that the lockdown was finally eased in Mumbai from the 8th of June, and most of our volunteers had to report back for work. Dozens of beneficiaries of the scheme profusely thanked the volunteers and the BPP Trust for having successfully undertaken this massive endeavour during the most challenging of all times, in the recent history of mankind.

I would be amiss in my duty if I did not thank the Maharashtra Police for thier prompt support, particularly, ACP Nagesh Jadhav and ACP Indalkar, for issuing the necessary passes to our volunteers to travel during the early days of the lockdown. The undertaking would have failed, were it not for the helpful assistance of the Maharashtra Police.

Due credit must certainly be given to our behind the scenes team – the BPP staff comprising a small but dedicated team, led by our two deputy CEOs – Aspi Sarkari and Shennaz Khambatta – and the face of our Helpline – Ronny Patel and Jimmy Merchant, ably supported by Nilufer Patel and Behnaz Bhamgara – all of who worked tirelessly, from 8:00 am in the morning to well past 10:00 pm at night. The patience, care and compassion they have shown to all the beneficiaries who reached out to us – some of whom were old, some sick, and some cutely quirky like only us Bawajis can be – were all dealt with in a warm, affectionate and caring manner, by the staff.

The coronavirus may have had a majorly negative impact on our peace of mind, sustenance and well-being, but there was no missing the silver lining of its positive impact on the community, bringing together a small but cohesive group of Trustees, youngsters and social workers, whose committed dedication to community service has re-established the old adage – Parsi, thy name is charity’. 

Barring a couple of disgruntled, constantly complaining individuals, the entire community has appreciated the efforts of the Trust and thanked the Trust for the same.

Though the BPP Trustees are perceived as a bickering lot, what stands out importantly today, is that the Trustees stood together as a team and delivered plentifully, when it mattered the most. I say this proudly on behalf of all my colleague trustees, that in times to come, we will continue to stay focused and deliver on such positive commitments, which will do our grand, 339-year-old, apex institution proud!

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