It is crucial that the likes of Swiggy, Zomato and Uber Eats, with their ever-expanding delivery fleets, start doing this on Indian streets. However, even if they do not, the contents of this article will serve as a handy guide for anyone wanting to deploy community refrigerators in a cool (pun intended) manner. This can be a great public relations exercise for everyone concerned.
- Have a simple checkbox for customers on their apps and websites upon selecting their food order (with a cautionary note) to enable them to indicate that they have fresh leftovers for the needy, homeless and impoverished at home, that they would prefer be taken away.
- Food has to be packed nicely and labelled properly with the name of the donor, name of the food item, date of preparation, date of expiry — and whether it is vegetarian or not.
- Delivery person can refuse the food only if not packed properly. Ideally, he / she should personally and verbally ask the customer about the quality of food, for formality’s sake.
- Delivery person will always attend to any waiting customer first (sometimes they cater to two orders at a time) and then drop off any donated food to the nearest community cooler before another order — directions to it get shown on map.
- Food, including that which is rejected by the customer for simple reasons of taste or from cancelled orders, gets stored inside special community refrigerators, categorized by type. Existing partner restaurants can be incentivized through special labels, badges, stickers and awards (for example, Hunger Savior), or advertising benefits to put these Zomato / Swiggy branded fridges (like how Pepsi and Coke do it) outside their premises, and to assign an already-employed person to look after them.
- Food delivery services can also approach other interested parties such as resident welfare associations, various trusts, gurdwaras, office campuses, non-governmental organizations, colleges, schools, hostels, paying guest accomodations (some of these have excess food on a daily basis) to act as custodians, not just restaurants. They can also choose to advertise offers, other brands, partners, exclusive memberships, events and more on such branded fridges via flyers, posters and QR codes, to make up for sunken costs and generate income.
- Refrigerators have to be somewhat away from the entrance but still very visible so that people on the road can donate. It should not generate any stigma or perception which can drive prospective customers away. They will operate as per restaurant timings, electricity bill is paid for by the restaurant, but is reimbursed by Swiggy / Zomato, either through renegotiated partnership terms or CSR money.
- There should be a bold, clearly legible infographic along with a textual message in local languages as well as English communicating the behavior which is expected of both donors and takers. Garbage bins for wet and dry waste along with labels (sticky notes) and a pen should be provided at the fridge for those who are donating on the spot. Put disclaimers, to avoid liability for any untoward incident. A logbook can be kept for people to enter details, which can also be used by folks to provide feedback.
- Appointed person regularly ensures to take out any perishable food item which has been inside for more than the required amount of time, say 5 days. This ideally has to be done based on the label and category of the contents, because while meat or milk cannot last very long — dry fruits, fried crunchy snacks, jams and pickles certainly can. Donors should also be requested via text and infographics to check and discard any food that looks expired, or says on its label that it is.
- Lastly, let us not assume the folks who would take the food are completely stupid and woefully ignorant of what they should eat or not. They are, in fact, better experts than you and I are.
~ Order gets cancelled during preparation — so what does the restaurant do?
- To prepare the food item nevertheless so that it can be kept in the fridge, to use some part of it in some other similar food item for another order, or to simply throw it away — this should be left at the restaurant’s discretion.
~ Order is prepared, but gets cancelled at the last minute.
- Restaurant should deposit it at the nearest fridge.
~ Order is out for delivery, but gets cancelled.
- Delivery person should deliver at the nearest fridge, which automatically gets highlighted on the map, along with directions. They should have the option to press the equivalent of a ‘skip’ button to refuse in case they want to eat or keep it for themselves.
~ Persons flocking the fridge soon as it opens for the day.
- We expect people to be orderly given that this is a polite, charitable thing being done in good faith. Appropriate and expected behavior shall be communicated via infographics and text in the local tongue.
~ Persons emptying the fridge soon as it is filled.
- We expect it to be addressed with more fridges and once the novelty factor wears off over time. Successes are bound to be emulated by others. Also, food will get deposited at random moments throughout the day, so it wouldn’t make sense for someone to constantly be keeping a vigil.
~ Swiggy putting poisoned food in Zomato’s fridge and vice-versa?
- Highly illegal, very unlikely, disgustingly unethical and shameful, extremely randomized targets and yes, please put a disclaimer.
~ Can a Swiggy delivery person deposit food in Zomato’s fridge?
- Ideally yes, should the powers that be truly appreciate the humanitarian nature of the cause. Although the directions to the nearest fridge may be company-specific.
~ Can a delivery person eat the food from such a fridge?
- Yes, before or after depositing, and even when he is on a holiday. That is the whole point of having a community fridge.
- Mohandas Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” More than seventy years since independence, high time India gets rid of hunger and malnourishment. Wars have been fought over food. No one should go to sleep with an empty stomach — due to ill fate, accidents of birth, lack of access, other priorities or yes, even an unwillingness to work. It is only natural to think that any society will turn far more entrepreneurial and shall be able to focus its time and money on other pressing matters once basic necessities such as two square meals are taken care of. And we inch one step closer to a sustainable planet with a circular economy.
~ Who is this for?
- Everyone. Yes, daily wage labourers, construction and sanitation workers, street hawkers, homeless, ragpickers, underprivileged — sometimes even delivery boys, security guards, autowallahs and cabbies can benefit from this. But let it not have the ‘needy beggar’ vibes. If you happen to be some rich dude really thirsty during your daily morning jog who sees some tasty lemonade? Go ahead and grab, but only as per your requirement.
~ Who can donate?
- Technically, anyone can. But especially party hosts, schools, colleges, hostels, religious places, event managers, registered caterers and restaurant owners ought to.
~ What sort of food should be donated?
- Unopened packaged or canned food, fresh fruits and vegetables, delicious cooked meals, biscuits, jams, pickles, dry fruits, beverages, fried snacks, bakery products and cereal-based items. Raw grains and pulses.
~ What sort of food should not be donated?
- Raw meat, eggs, fish, opened milk must be avoided. Although it may seem like common sense, people should nevertheless be clearly instructed not to donate food that they themselves will not eat. That means no pet food.
~Where should this fridge be deployed?
- Outside the premises of the custodian and slightly away from the main entrance. Wherever electricity can be supplied (duh!), and reasonable protection from weather exists. Ideally, one should deploy it in middle-income neighborhoods and busy urban areas, for best accessibility. Posh places do not have needy people roaming around, and in slums it may be difficult to keep oversight, space may be limited, and chances exist of the fridge being misused or stolen.
~ What else can be done around this roadside refrigerator?
- You can spruce up the surroundings with some street art and keep donation boxes for people to keep other items such as toys, books, garments, utensils, stationery, footwear etc.
~ How to protect the fridge from animals and the weather?
- Keep the fridge on a flat base of bricks packed with sand so as to avoid slightly waterlogged roads. Have a small, gently inclining and overhanging cover made of plastic or metal affixed on top of the fridge to ensure water flows away from the compressor. It can be as simple as a bolted or glued aluminum sheet. Tarpaulins or umbrellas may get stolen.
~ Should the fridge be open and running at all times?
- Ideally, the fridge door should be locked with a key when the caretaker is shutting down their premises (for example, the restaurant is closing for the day) but the electricity must be supplied at all times for the food to remain good. The machine can be run on low power.
~ How much does a second-hand fridge cost?
- Based on what my team found, a standard 220L second-hand display fridge with a transparent door and grill shelves can come for INR 6000-8000, but a regular household fridge (ensure its compressor is protected from sun and rain) with an opaque door can come for only INR 4500. A new display fridge will start from INR 15,000. You may be able to find these on sites such as OLX.