Good SamaritansWhen David, a young urchin, finishes collecting waste paper from the garbage stack near the slum dwellers’ colony in BTM layout in the IT capital, the first thing he does is to visit the Community Fridge installed a kilometre or so away. He is not alone, accompanied as he is by other youngsters.

All of them greet the security guard, who is stationed near the fridge. He too, perhaps, has been waiting for them for he quickly opens the fridge and hands out food packets to the children. If some prefer fruit, he checks the fridge to see if he can find some for them. It is all vegetarian stuff.

The youngsters, however, are not alone in enjoying the free food. Within minutes, four beggars troop up and open the fridge door to check if there is anything for them. Happy at finding a good meal, their faces light up. Mukesh, a construction labourer, is a frequent visitor here as are his colleagues.

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The Community Fridge or the Public Fridge is the talk of the neighbourhood with the concept spreading to other parts of the city as well. If Bala Harish started the initiative in BTM layout, other Samaritans followed suit in commercial centres like Indira Nagar and Koramangla, to name but two. Others, too, plan to take up the initiative.

The concept is simple. Huge amounts of food go waste every day, either at home or during weddings. People like Harish, a legal advisor, realised that instead of allowing that to happen, it would be worthwhile if the food could actually be shared, in the process feeding the needy. So that’s how he put up the fridge at a convenient location in BTM Layout, though only after taking approval from the local corporator.

A large-sized fridge can cost anywhere up to Rs 1 lakh. In addition, there is the recurring cost of electricity. Sponsorships are thus welcome.

Harish told The Statesman that he was fascinated by the concept after he read an article about Dr Issa Fatima, a Chennai-based Orthodontist who runs the “Public Foundation” specially set up for the purpose. Dr Issa used to give the surplus food in her house to a needy woman next door before the lady shifted elsewhere. Not knowing what to do she began driving around to find needy people who would welcome a good meal. It was thus she hit on the idea of a Community Fridge.

It was, however, easier said than done. Many issues needed to be taken care of including hygiene. She invited people to leave their surplus food in the public fridge even as she realised that stringent norms to maintain hygiene were imperative, especially as the response from other Samaritans picked up.

There were some strict conditions: the time and possible expiry date had to be mentioned on packets left by do-gooders. It was equally important to ensure that stale or rotten food was not left. The challenges, as she told this paper, were immense. It was then that she decided to bring out an 80-page booklet listing the dos and don’ts.

Accordingly, those who wished to set up similar fridges under the foundation’s umbrella needed to follow the guidelines, without shortcuts. Dr Issa runs three such public fridges in Chennai under her foundation. It was after learning about her work that Harish took the cue in Bengaluru.

The next step is to consider putting one up in Whitefield in the IT capital before looking at Bhubaneshwar where some like-minded people have shown interest to follow her example. Harish, incidentally, also encourages people to leave books and clothing for the needy.

The Community Fridge concept serves the twin purpose of feeding the needy and preventing waste. No wonder than that several wedding halls also chip in by leaving food packets in the fridges put up in some places. As Dr Issa explained, it was imperative to ensure that utmost care was taken during packing.

The concept has become popular now with a large number of Samaritans chipping in with their own efforts. Carrots restaurant, for example, ensures that every day its staff keep packets of healthy food in the community fridge outside the eating place.

According to Sushmitha Subbaraju, co-owner, Carrots has even started what they call a Good Karma Meal. Interested customers can buy these subsidised meals, along with bottled water, which can be placed in the community fridge.

Byblos, a Lebanese restaurant, too has been stocking its community fridge, happy to see the needy relishing the fresh food.

As the movement catches on, more and more people are joining it. It is not uncommon to see 40 to 50 food packets being kept by different people in the fridge. Monitoring though is essential but as Harish explained, the security guard stationed near the fridge logs in the time the food packets come in along with details about when it was prepared and possible expiry date.