Through a Glide app, residents across Chennai volunteer to cook for families that have to quarantine on account of the Coronavirus infection

Deepthi was among those instrumental in starting Meals For Madras, a glide-app driven initiative that finds volunteers to cook and deliver food to COVID-hit families.

Not even two weeks old, it is already “65-women-and-two-men” strong.

Deepthi points out that the rapid growth rate only underlines a steadily rising need for it.

Deepthi Tanikella  

On the question of its genesis, Deepthi says she had read her friend Harsini Sreedhar’s Instagram story announcing her plan to cook a meal for the COVID-hit.

“I messaged her, ‘Count me in!’,” says Deepthi, who runs a startup that has to do with skincare products.

Deepthi and Harsini made common cause, beginning to together serve meals to families crippled by the Coronavirus.

“I did it on a whim,” recalls Harsini, who works for a multi-national tech major. “I just posted on Instagram saying if anyone wanted food (on account of a COVID-19 situation), please get in touch with me. It so happened that people who wanted to volunteer just the same way, got in touch with me. Some influential Instagram account had shared what I had posted, and on day one itself, 12 people reached out saying they wanted to volunteer for this initiative,” says Harsini, adding that this was a clear call to have the exercise streamlined.

Harsini Sreedhar 

Says Deepthi, “I was thinking to myself, ‘How could we make this even better?’ I posted on Twitter that I was looking for help, and asked if anyone could develop a web app to drive the initiative. Srinidy Ravichandran, another friend, who is into product development with a tech major, responded. In the next few hours, she developed a glide app. Slowly, many women started joining the initiative. We do not know many of them personally. They found us via Twitter, Instagram and with friends sharing DMs. They say too many cooks spoil the broth — our initiative gives the lie to that adage.”

The app aggregates benefactors, with details about their location. When a COVID-19 patient selects the area and fills in the details, the managers of the app would receive a message about it in WhatsApp. From there, it is about finding out the volunteers from the same area or thereabouts who can honour that request. Details of how many days food need to be delivered, and for how people would be relayed to them.

Srinidy Ravichandran 

“Today, somebody in Perumbakkam asked for meals to be provided to an elderly COVID-positive couple for 14 days, and we could not find anybody in that area who could take it up. But the beauty of it was that I was making meals for three people in T Nagar, and somebody came forward to take it up, and my slot was cleared, and I could do it for the Perumbakkam couple,” reveals Deepthi, a Pallavakkam resident.

The meals are sent via professional delivery services like Dunzo and Swiggy. While the food is entirely free — irrespective of the quantity and duration — the beneficiaries are allowed to pay for the delivery charges.

“Some people come forward to say they would pay in advance for the entire duration the meals would be delivered to them,” says Deepthi. “They can pay for delivery if they can afford it. If they cannot, we do not push it on them.”

Deepthi points out that volunteers are encouraged to not feel guilty about expressing an inability to take up a new responsibility, when it comes their way. As volunteers are also in the middle of a pandemic, that understanding is naturally extended to them. The point is to always find someone else to sign up for that commitment.

“With so many people offering to share food, we are now working with them as well, thereby increasing our bandwidth. The basic idea is to not say ‘no’ to anyone seeking meals,” explains Deepthi.

Harsini points out that it is not so much the cooking as the coordination that is the major challenging. She has been particularly fortunate in working for a company that extends special leave to an employee engaged in volunteering work.

Harsini availed the provision to steer the ship, with her husband and brother-in-law also chipping in with the coordination work.

The group is sensitised to go the extra mile for COVID-positive senior citizens, living alone.

“When they get COVID-19, they have a real problem on their hands. They also have dietary restrictions. The doctor might have asked them to add a lot of vegetables to their diet. We cannot expect them to get up and cook for themselves when they are not feeling well. We ask them specifically if they want it with less salt, more vegetables and so on,” says Deepthi.

The ‘Meals For Madras’ team is aware of the initiative’s scope for greater service.

Deepthi explains cooks rendered out of job can be helped, if volunteers provided them with groceries, and they made food and delivered it to families and got paid for it.

“We have also been approached by companies to offer us donations. Unfortunately or fortunately, we are all individuals, and we do not have any Trust, and donations cannot be made to this group,” says Deepthi. She is however open to the possibility of this initiative spinning off into a similar charity, post-pandemic.

“After all, all of us love food, cooking, serving and talking about food.”

The Meals for Madras app can be accessed at https://cov19-che-homefood.

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