Being a metro city, Kolkata gets flocks of travellers throughout a year. Exclusive Bengali cuisine apart from monuments and memorials forms an inevitable part of this urban that makes it the ‘City of Joy’. Mouthwatering fish palates to saporous ‘chhena’ desserts, Kolkata has every savoury dish for a food-fond-nomad. Adding another gem to its crown comes the food ATM; a free food refrigerator by the roadside from where a traveller while wandering on the scorching lanes of Kolkata can get their refreshments. From fresh juices to packets of biriyani, this cardless ATM has a wide list of menus on it. Though initially these ATMs were set to help the underprivileged, yet it has gained its popularity among the rovers and travellers as well who keep visiting the city time and again.
The Concept of a food ATM
Food and beverage ATM or simply food ATM have gained its popularity among the needy and hungry as the ‘free food refrigerator’ on roads. Both cooked and packed foods are stored in this free food refrigerator from where the deprived can take out food and beverages as per their requirement. One does not need to have a card or a key to the refrigerator; it is just an ordinary four hundred litres fridge stuffed with food standing along the pavements.
A billboard mounted over the ATM reads ‘The amount of food India wastes annually is enough to feed entire Egypt for a year’!
The idea of food ATM first came up to Asif Ahmed, who is also the co-owner of the restaurant chain ‘Sanjha Chulha’ in Kolkata. As soon as Asif clicked the idea, his three friends namely, Prakash Nahata, Rahul Agarwal and Nirmal Bajaj came forward to help him. Shortly after this, with the help of other organizations, he sat up the first food ATM of Kolkata near one of his food outlet in Park Circus. The whole idea was to collect and store the excess edible items from eateries instead of throwing them away, store it in the ATM and feed the hungry and the deprived.
The most benefitted from this venture are the poor but many times weary travellers find their oasis at these food ATMs as well. While travellers revive their energy through these ATMs, it also becomes their responsibility to refill the stock as well.
Where are these food ATMs located?
The very first ATM was set up on EM Bypass near Uttar Panchhanna Gram. Soon, the second and third were respectively brought up on CIT Road, opposite Ladies Park and near Ramleela Maidan at Moulali.
The next set of fridges are soon coming at South Kolkata, near Bhawanipur and Jadavpur 8B bus stand. At present, the three food ATMs approximately feed 2000 people in a single day.
ATMs in action
The initiative got the name ‘PRAN’, after the initial letters of the four friends. With a start-up investment of INR 50,000 which included the cost of the refrigerator as well, PRAN started its campaign for ‘Hunger Free Kolkata’.
During Durga Puja, they requested the major puja organizing clubs of Kolkata to cook some extra ‘Bhoga’ so that the little extra can be distributed to the underprivileged through these ATMs. During the Bengali New Year, the third food ATM at Ramleela Maidan was stacked with foods and beverages. Several eateries in the vicinity helped them in filling the ATM and the response was overwhelming.
The contented faces of the deprived and hungry marked the triumph of the ATMs. Their faces reflected a deific tone and happiness, especially of the children when they filled their plates.
Who can donate food?
All of us who are left with extra food at the end of the day can donate it to the ATM. The ATM gets an enormous response from the students of nearby schools. They regularly keep chocolates, juices, and fruits in the fridge and are happy to share their tiffin with the needy. Tourists often carry dry food items while wandering, they can also keep these in the ATM.
The real challenge for these ATMs is to grow awareness among the common mass about food wastage. Every person who comes to dine at a particular eatery needs to be aware to get the excess food packed so that it can be kept in the ATM. With more ATMs coming up, the restaurant networks also need to understand the need for saving the superfluous food rather than throwing it away.
Being a responsible traveller
- As a traveller, one always carry dry foods to cater to an emergency. One can drop the extra dry food packet in these ATMs at the end of the day to ensure that it is not wasted.
- One can parcel the extra food from lunch or dinner and keep it in the ATM instead of throwing it away. Also, it is better to keep the extra and unwanted food items in the fridge rather can carrying it all over the whole trip.
- You are always welcome to use the stored food from the ATM but you need to refill the stock as well.
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