“Before the national lockdown was announced, the food insecurity surrounding us pushed us to think of some way to help. We decided to use our restaurant’s kitchen at Shanghai Surprise to prepare meals for daily-wage workers,’’ says an emotional Ambica Kapoor working from her busy kitchen establishment in Gurugram, alongside husband Arjun Pandey.
The couple started by distributing 180 food packets. It took them barely a day to realise that the need far surpassed what they were offering; scaling up operations was necessary to save lives. Without delay, they started calling their friends and family, and even tapped into their wider social-media circle for support. Help poured in.
Rachna Dikshit, one of the first donors to join in, says, ‘‘In any crisis, we have a choice; we can either wring our hands helplessly or put them to use productively. I decided to reach out.’’
She is part of what is now the core group, comprising Advaita Kala, Rasika Batra, Sandeep Kerwal, and Prabhat Agarwal. They expanded Arjun and Ambica’s idea into a community initiative.
Overnight, Janta Rasoi was born.
The core group fundraises tirelessly and puts in enormous amounts of effort, time, and money to make sure more and more people go to sleep knowing that their next meal is secure.
Today, there are two Janta Rasoi kitchens serving close to 3,000 meals every single day to people who are most vulnerable under the lockdown – daily wagers, slum dwellers and poor families. Fitted with masks, gloves and hair caps, the committed staff of Shanghai Surprise cooks and packs thousands of food packets under the watchful eyes of Ambica and Arjun, who then work hours to ensure delivery.
The Janta Rasoi gang is determined to keep going even beyond the lockdown because the economy will take time to recover. Arjun and Ambica, however, are not worried about running out of money or support.
“The spirit of volunteerism is amazing to see. Contributions are pouring in. Some people are sending money, some rations and some others are donating their time,’’ says Arjun.
Ambica adds, “At a time like this, the biggest learning for me has been that there is still so much good out there.”