No one on earth has ever imagined that, one day, a virus like Covid would strike the world and turn a scenic place into a terror space. When the virus came, everyone thought that it’s merely a virus, like other viruses, and it’s gonna end soon after gulping a pill, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, this virus has become stronger, evolving day by day, and killing the innocent masses with no mercy.
As India is still battling the second wave of Covid-19, there are already news reports spreading about the third wave, which is about to hit India in 6-8 weeks. The current situation is out-of-control, but to date, a lot of people, communities, organizations, companies, and NGOs have come forward to the rescue of patients from this deadly virus. Some organizations are working day and night to make sure the needy get their rations. Not to mention, the Covid volunteers are doing everything they can to help the patients get proper support and care.
Just like that, an Indian Celebrity Chef, Saransh Goila, Co-Founder of Goila Butter Chicken (GBC), who runs 9 stores across Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, and London came forward to provide his utmost help during these unprecedented times. He has built a platform called “CovidMealsForIndia.Com” to deliver home-cooked meals for Covid-19 patients across India.
Apart from his chef work, Saransh does several TV shows that create food content and educate people about Indian foods and cuisine and share a lot of regional recipes. Whenever he travels, he shares his love for street food with people around and his community.
How It All Started?
It all started about 8 weeks back with a couple of direct messages that Saransh got from people on Instagram, asking for help with numbers of home cooks or people who can supply home food to covid patients. As we are aware that Covid takes a longer recovery time of at least 3 weeks, patients need proper care and support, especially having healthy meals. “Although friends, families, and neighbors might help you out, in a scenario like this, where people were falling ill in clusters, there wasn't a lot of help. Because they might get ill or people are hesitant to move out”, said Saransh.
So, that's when he realized that there was a unique problem that was created with this wave, and in search of a solution, he curated a list of home chefs and volunteers who are willing to send daily meals to covid patients. On the first day, the list started with 200-250 volunteers and home chefs from 10 different cities, and later, it grew rapidly like a hub/community. As there seemed to be a large number of people who were wanting help with home-cooked meals, the list quickly converted into a website called “CovidMealsForIndia.Com”, developed by a Delhi-based tech company "FASTOR".
“FASTOR was able to convert this Google sheet into a website in about two days. And currently, the list is about 4200 providers from across 400 cities, and in response, it has been able to help a lot of people with home-cooked meals”, shares Saransh. He further added, “my intention was to start as a very small scale but it caught up very fast and turned into a portal, and of course there was a large need for it.”
They also have a WhatsApp number (chatbot) for the initiative +91-8882891316, where people can reach out directly and can get help from the list of providers directly on their WhatsApp. As and when someone texts them, the WhatsApp chatbot shares the details then and there. The best part is, you can register as providers or volunteers from the same chatbot itself.
There are about 400 cities listed on the platform. It's about 26 states. So pretty much Pan India wherever covid-19 was there. They also listed restaurants and cloud kitchens on the platform. For instance, they had listed a restaurant based out of Mumbai "Saltwater Cafe", Saransh’s own cloud kitchen “Goila Butter Chicken” too.
More about the idea, he said, “We requested people to come and list themselves. This was more about reaching out to people and simply being okay helping out from their home kitchen. So the idea was to enable people in each and every pin code to sort of be able to help while they are staying at home. Hence the wide reach.”
The Whole Setup
As far as the structure of CovidMealsForIndia.Com goes, they put the patient directly in touch with the home chef or the volunteer. “These are not like a restaurant kitchen or a hotel kitchen. These are not cooking sites that are producing thousands of kgs of food and distributing. These are home cooks and volunteers who have the potential to cook 7 extra meals. They cook for four people in the home, but they can cook for 20 people every day. So these are people who are helping, let's say, 2-3 families, and hence it has been widespread, and has been able to reach all across India”, explains Saransh on how they planned to connect providers with patients.
The platform got several requests from people to fund, but they realized that Covid Meals For India did not necessarily require any donations or crowdsourcing. Because, they had built the platform with an ideology that people who register on the platform are those who genuinely want to help and are fine with managing making/delivering meals from their pockets, or charge a nominal fee for the same. “Most of the patients wouldn’t mind paying a nominal 50-100 rupees for a tiffin. So, this seems to be my idea that did not require crowdsource funding”, states Saransh, the founder of Goila Butter Chicken.
Besides, the platform helped other organizations, like, they tied up with some of the Mumbai-based NGOs, namely, Enrich Lives Foundation, Feeding From Far, etc. to help them with donations.“This wave has created joblessness around, and there are people who can't even afford a single meal a day. So, we thought that funds are better used to feed people who can't even afford meals. Hence, we took the call of helping them out with money instead of helping ourselves”, says Saransh on how they used the funds they received from across different places.
When asked how they manage the platform, he said, “when you start looking at the setup, then you know you are trying to build infrastructure and you're trying to connect the dots everywhere. In a case like this, the problem is unique, and again you need people who already live in that area or in their locality who are willing to help and can use their home kitchen to cook their meals and send.”
Leads And Verification
All the leads on covid meals for India are verified. For verification of registered people on the platform, they have an in-house setup of four people who're working on Covid Meals For India. These people verify the volunteers and home cooks who register on their website through WhatsApp mode. About the verification method, Saransh asserts that “Unfortunately, the only verification that we can do is of the person and their number. But there is no way of verifying the order that they send out to the customer, in this case, that happens to be a covid patient.”
The moment one decides to register on the platform, they are asked to fill the entire form along with services they provide, kind of meals, suggested menus, etc. On that note, Saransh said, “The reason we made them sign these things because it’s to make them aware that they are providing food to a patient. And of course, we are working on the goodwill of people and hoping that they will not falter in a situation like this.”
In addition, every time a covid patient finds a food provider, the team sends the communication to the covid patient that they have to do their due diligence. The chef also said, “When you're placing this order, which means that we have verified the person when we have done our best. Because ultimately, we can guide them and we can help them with, educate them, but we can't control it. You should ask the necessary questions from them and then we always send this message to the patient to make them aware that Covid meals for India is a platform to connect you.”
So far, the team hasn't received any complaints regarding deliveries and verifications too. “Assuming that a lakh+ meals have been served in this process, there were no complaints of food per se, as people are not picky or choosy about what they are eating. They are just happy that they are getting home food in a situation like this”, says the celebrity chef.
Food Sourcing And Diet Guidelines
Some people provided their food for charity. All the food materials are sourced directly by volunteers and home chefs. They have also taken nutritionists' and doctors' opinions on the type of foods a Covid patient should eat. They realized that there's no particular covid diet for a patient, which means that every person might have a unique meal. Hence, they released a general guideline on the website, WhatsApp, and on their social media handles for home chefs to consider them while cooking the meal. And for patients to follow while they are thinking about how to plan their diet.
“There is misinformation that is spreading, WhatsApp forwards that was going around, covid guide, eat this, eat that. And diet, there's no one rule that fits everyone. Only broad guidelines must be released in a situation like this so that's what we did as far as suggested diet plans. If the doctor suggests something specific, then the patient needs to ask the home chef”, says Saransh about the diet guidelines.
Few meals are provided at a nominal cost of anywhere between 50-100 rupees, depending on what the patient wants. The celebrity chef also quoted an instance as to why they charge a nominal amount, “there was a patient who wanted moong dal water, because the doctor told them so, and the home-chef said fine. I will make that also, but there's a nominal charge for that. Because they're doing it for a good cause they're not making money on it. They are just recovering their cost. So in a way, you can say that they are charging for the materials that they are cooking.”
When asked whether the meals are only for patients or can frontline workers also order, he replied: “In the second wave, there was so much destruction and distress around. There were people, like, old grandparents who got Covid lived by themselves and had nobody to help them or kids whose parents probably got admitted to the hospital but these little ones were left all alone at home. And of course, there are other unique cases as well, like, Frontline workers or doctors, who are probably not able to manage meals on their own and they require a service like this. But having said this was mostly for covid patients.”
Delivery And Tracking
They have made the whole delivery process entirely seamless and easier. As soon as somebody finds a home chef or home cook on Covid Meals For India Dotcom, they are automatically redirected to WhatsApp, and they can directly chat with the person on WhatsApp. Coming to the delivery part, they have associated with organizations like Dunzo, Swiggy, where they delivered at discounted rates.
“We were able to crack some good delivery associations and we connected people directly with the partners to be able to fulfill deliveries. In some places, they offered the deliveries for free if the meal was being provided for free. So, we were able to crack these small associations to support the home chef. The deliveries are directly coordinated between the patient and home chef because it saves the trouble of going through a third party”, avers Saransh.
The best part of this platform is that they have listed remote locations like Leh Ladak too. Even though these places don’t have a delivery app to coordinate deliveries, they are using local networks to get the job done. Concerning that, Saransh said, “We call their local restaurant and ask them - can we hire your delivery guy for two hours or one hour and we'll pay them whatever the fee is. So we have also used their local resources to be able to complete the delivery. There were home Chefs who went out of their way and delivered the orders on their own as well.”
When asked about the number of fulfilled orders, Saransh said that at least 2.5 lakh people would have used/received the service/orders. In the beginning, the website used to get a lakh hits per day, but now, there’s a drop by almost 80 percent, which is about 25000 people, smiles the celebrity chef.
We asked how he felt helping so many people, he replied: “I think we all felt responsible to help people out. Sometimes, you feel guilty if you can't help someone out. You have that constant pressure to do more and help more people out there. It also makes you feel very helpless because you hear stories, like this girl who was stuck in a small town Eluru, where she lost her family to Covid-19. It is very disheartening. I feel like, I am proud that I was able to help people out, and create CovidMealsForIndia.Com”
On An Ending Note
Finally, Saransh concluded with a positive note: “I think, the only mistake that any of us can make is to tell a covid patient that you know "Covid hai, toh Aisa hi hota hai". I think we should all try to reaffirm the fact that while covid is stuck, their friends and family are there to help them out in every way possible.”
Adding to it, he said, “I think we all are lucky to live in a digital era where you can just shout out on Twitter or Instagram, you will get somebody to help you out. I feel like it's okay if you can't help someone out in a situation like this. However you feel, you don't need to justify it. So, let's not judge. If you can help, of course, as responsible citizens, we must do our part.”