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Executive Voice

23 year old youth activist, Vignesh Shanbhag from Mumbai is helping the underprivileged and homeless of the city fight against hunger in the pandemic

For the city’s underprivileged and homeless, the recent second state-wide lockdown has risen a second wave of hunger. A loss of daily wages due to the COVID restrictions has left the urban poor dependent on charities once again.

Approximately seven million slum-dwellers, most of them migrants from other states, found themselves struggling to access subsidised food grains under the Public Distribution System. Unlike the 2020 lockdown, the fair price stores are still functional, staff for unloading trucks is available and movement of people is not completely banned. But the most marginalised, including the homeless, poorly paid daily wage labourers and transgender community, are already down to one meal a day.

To bridge this gap, Vignesh decided to step in and he launched the ‘Mumbai Food Run’ campaign in April 2021 under The Musafir Project, his organization/label. He mentions “A large portion of the population in our country are facing numerous issues with respect to arranging necessities like food and basic sanitary care. Many have already died out of starvation as they didn’t have access to even a single meal a day. The Mumbai Food Run is an initiative that is purely focused on covid relief operations for the underprivileged and homeless of our city.” He and his team have successfully distributed over 30,000 meals & in the second-wave of Covid-19 and they have a goal to distribute over 50,000-80,000 meals in the coming few months.

He went on to say, “What we started as a 7-day food distribution drive has now officially turned into a movement.” He also added, “Everyone has shown immense love and support, be it my entire team, the partner organizations (Feed The Need, Khaana Chahiye, Change Is Us, Dancer Downs, SeaFins) who have helped in raising funds or sponsoring meals, or the on-ground army of volunteers who’re risking their lives everyday to ensure nobody goes hungry.”

For most of our generation, this is the first time we are dealing with something as unpredictable as this pandemic. While we joke about doomsday scenarios, share tips on working from home and countless memes on social media, the reality of this privilege that allows us, especially in India, to panic and preach, needs to be converted into something bigger and greater than all of us.

Vignesh mentions, “Great suffering often opens our eyes to the responsibilities that we have towards others. How we as a society act in the coming few months, through this collective suffering, will define the social fabric of our society for the next couple of generations. All of us got into this together and we will get out of this together as well, with hands clasped and a stronger vision of an even better future. Hope is on the horizon! Nothing can stop us and our fight against hunger in the city.”

Vignesh and his organization have been conferred with numerous awards over the past year for all their relief efforts and awareness drives. Some of them are — 40 Under 40 Indian Achievers Award, Pride Of Young Hindustan Award and India’s Covid Warriors Award.

In the coming months, he and his team also aim at starting a free ambulance service for senior citizens & a tarpaulin distribution team to provide shelter because various slums have been facing difficulties after the cyclone and heavy rains in the city.

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