Amid industrialists, corporate houses, celebs, businessmen and the wealthy donating huge sums of money to help people in times of coronavirus pandemic, a railways employee is showing he also cares - and is proving it.
Khushroo Poacha, a Superintendent with the Central Railway (CR)'s Commercial Department in Nagpur, has hit upon a successful strategy to feed thousands - but without using an NGO, donations, or even opening a bank account.
The Parsi with a charitable soul uses his goodwill, personal and professional contacts through the social media, to collect food and help from kind persons all over the world for thousands of poor and needy in India.
In the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, he has single-handedly managed to collect food and aid materials worth more than Rs 4 million, which has benefitted over 6,000 families, besides two tonnes of rice to feed more than 60,000 poor.
On Monday itself, responding to an SOS by Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission President Kishore Tiwari, he immediately despatched a truckload of dry-food packets which will provide succour to nearly 550 farmers' widows and their families for the next 10 days.
"Luckily, I had the material ready. After 10 days, depending on the situation, we shall send more aid as needed," a smiling Poacha said.
For the ongoing pandemic relief work, Poacha deploys help requests through a series of WhatsApp Groups, and his websites, www.sevakitchen.org and www.indianblooddonors.com and apps, which in turn are supported by www.donatekart.com which assist him to source all his needs.
"Requests go through www.donatekart.com and donors make their contributions which are routed to my supplier from where I pick up the stuff required. There is no monetary involvement at any stage," he explained.
"We have set up 21 Seva Kitchens in India, mostly in cancer or children's hospitals or schools where people can get good, nutritious food absolutely free. Besides, we have installed 'Neki Ka Pitara' (Fridge of Kindness) at these locations for the poor and needy," Poacha said.
The Seva Kitchens, each serving around 3,000 meals daily and 'Neki Ka Pitara' are currently functional in Nagpur (9), Hyderabad (4), one each in Bengaluru, Palwal (Haryana), Sawantwadi, Thane, Navi Mumbai (all in Maharashtra).
He mentions with pride a Seva Kitchen in Guldasta School, Sarita Vihar Colony in New Delhi, manned by an '80-year young' sprightly Vimla Kaul.
"My volunteers, a dedicated band of around 1,000, regularly maintain an uninterrupted flow of supplies to the needy, irrespective of the region, caste, religion, etc. Most importantly, it remains anonymous both ways - we don't know who is a beneficiary and they don't know through whose benevolence," Poacha explained.
At 16, when he lost his father, Poacha 'suddenly grew up in life', took up a clerical job with Indian Railways at 18, and watched many eke out a near-starvation existence or people dying just because they couldn't get blood on time.
Almost 20 years ago, he pioneered India's list of blood donors through his website and has been instrumental in saving hundreds of thousands of lives since.
During the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, when there was blood shortage for the victims, he called up a private TV channel and requested them to run his website name www.indianblooddonors.com on their ticker.
"It got a massive response, and we were covered by BBC World a few months later," he said with pride.
Now, with his wife Fermin and 7-year daughter Tunisha, the 53-year Poacha is linked with major social groups and groups like Sant Nirankari Seva Dal, "who silently work, without bothering about any publicity or photo-ops" to help the needy.
"At the height of lockdown, my dedicated band of volunteers reaches everywhere with food packets, cooked meals or replenishments for the 'Neki Ka Pitara' round-the-clock. I get requests from persons like Tiwariji, or from community workers and we try to help them to the best," Poacha said.
Incidentally, each Fridge of Kindness is supported by one WhatsApp Group linked with donors who ensure it remains full 24x7 with ready consumables like milk, juices, fruits, dry fruits of approximately Rs 10,000 daily, which proves a boon for relatives of cancer patients or kids who have undergone expensive procedures.
"It opens twice/thrice daily, people pick whatever they need, when it goes empty, our local contact posts a picture of the fridge, within minutes, a donor chips in and magically, it gets refilled before the next opening time," he said.
Before the era of mobiles and social media, Poacha encountered frustrations in his efforts but would look at the heavens and thank the Almighty when absolute strangers suddenly appeared from nowhere to help out.
"I have had many such experiences when I felt nothing is going to work out, just then some angel or fairy in a human form comes and solves my problems at one shot. Now, I leave everything to Him and he never lets us down," said Poacha.
These messengers of goodness may be in the form of a local businessman, or a celeb or an industrialist or a foreigner who will simply ask - "How can I help you?" and it's granted without a second question.
"I reciprocate likewise as I got a call from a Muslim colony today asking whether we could help out with their small community kitchen. I assured whatever you want, you will get," he said.
Now, the 'kindness virus' has infected his daughter Tunisha. She made a beginning this year by donating a whopping 5,000 schoolbags to the children of those who suffered in last year's devastating floods in different parts of Maharashtra, appropriately labelling them 'Bags of Kindness'.