Going beyond self to cater to the hungry

Pune: At a wedding they attended, a low guest turn out saw the caterer`s calculations go wrong resulting in massive food wastage. This seemingly trivial and common occurrence got a group of five common friends thinking.

Acutely conscious of the less fortunate, deprived of even one meal in a day, these youngsters from different fields decided to create a network in this burgeoning city that would ensure distribution of excess food at celebrations and parties to the needy.

Aptly christened they formed "Beyond Self" which is now bringing smiles on the weary faces that one often sees in slums and shantis and prefers not to notice. "We contacted various caterers and asked them if they could cooperate in disposing of the excess food prepared at big celebrations so that it could reach to the hungry and starving in different parts of the city.

Initially we were looked at suspiciously with a lukewarm response which slowly turned into a heartwarming one after they got convinced of our mission…..", says Mahesh Mulchandani, joined by his four colleagues – Sainath Shetty, Madhu Thakur, Dhiraj Chhabria and Tanvi Saksena—who have varied job profiles ranging from fashion designing to software engineer.

"We have now evolved a system by which the caterer contacts us whenever a sizable excess food is left over in the party. We put on our uniform – a T-shirt with Beyond Self logo – and accompany the caterer`s men in a tempo , directing them to an identified pockets where those who really need food live. They gather with their utensils as we sound them in advance and the joy on their faces compensates for the time and effort we put in ", he feels.

A remarkable feature of this "Beyond Self" mission which is completing one year now, is the methodology employed by the young professionals who underwent a three-day training in preserving food when the time lag is little longer.

A questionnaire is also given to the caterer recording details of the timing of food preparation and the ingredients used to ensure that the starving consumer gets unspoiled items without posing any health problem. "When the food is handed over to us, we make small packages using silver foil paper. An effort is made to identify genuine cases and we approach those who sleep at railway stations, S T stands or pavements and whose empty stomach touches their back. There are rag pickers and those exasperated in the struggle for existence who are sometimes pleasantly surprised at our sight and at times unable to react," said Mahesh, his face radiating the joy of giving.

Although it is a five member "core committee" as they call themselves, about hundred volunteers have now come forward to join "Beyond Self" which is being supported by Panchasheel foundation and students of Maharashtra State Institute of Hotel Management and Technology. "Our next step is to acquire proper cold storage to expand the scope of Beyond Self," Mahesh adds, modestly satisfied with the present endeavour, a rarity in a self-obsessed social milieu.