Army of Robin Hood, the group That called Themselves
Robin Hood is a tale most of us have grown up listening to. It is the story of an English boy who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. The legend of the popular folk figure Robin Hood has been popular across times and ages so much so that it still finds mention in literature, films and television.
Inspired by the folktale, a band of real Merry Men took charge of helping the less fortunate ones, something on the lines of what Robin Hood is fabled to have done.
The Robin Hood Army (RHA) is a volunteer-based organization that works to get surplus food from the restaurants to give to the less-fortunate sections of the society. The organization consists of 3,500 volunteers spread across 27 cities in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Robins have contributed food to more than 510,000 people till date. The volunteers are mostly young working professionals from various fields who undertake this during their free time. Every Sunday, Robins rally together to feed the hungry citizens.
The RHA recently launched its Guwahati chapter with Salma Sultana Ahmed as the captain of the Army and 15 Merry Men. Ahmed works as a creative head at Stoic Marketing Solutions, Guwahati.
Ahmed, on being asked how she came to know about the Robin Hood Army, shares, “I came across Robin Hood Army’s Instagram post about six months back. I was intrigued by the concept and decided to read more about it. Food wastage is my pet peeve, so I knew instantly that I wanted to be a part of this crusade which is not only combating food wastage but also feeding hungry citizens.”
She adds, “I wrote a mail to the RHA about wanting to start a Guwahati chapter. There were certain guidelines to be followed before we were official and became a recognized city chapter. We had to conduct food distribution drives for three consecutive Sundays before we became official. I grew up being taught that food wastage is a crime. With RHA, I have been able to follow what I have been taught.”
On the first food distributing drive day (May 8), each volunteer contributed Rs 20 to buy sweet buns, water, naan and sabzi-gravy to feed the hungry ones at the Guwahati railway Station. The next two drives took place at Bhootnath and Sukreswar Temple. Following the successful drives on three consecutive Sundays, the team was declared official RHA, Guwahati Chapter.
Since then, the Robins in Guwahati have been conducting food distribution drives, humbly beginning as a chapter in Guwahati to fight food wastage and hunger in the city. On whether RHA Guwahati gets funds from other sources, Ahmed says, “RHA is a completely non-funded organisation and we don’t accept monetary help under any circumstances. All we need is an hour’s time every Sunday and those who can help us with weekday drives. Till date, we feed 482 people.”
The Army collects leftovers from the dhabas in Jalukbari, Three Guys Restaurant in Zoo Road, JBs (GS Road, Uzanbazar and Fancy Bazar outlet) and The Humble Chef, Food Truck near Pantaloons onboard.
“Hunger is a bigger issue than AIDS or anything else. It kills more people than bomb blasts. The feeling of feeding the hungry ones is unparallel. The city restaurants have been very cooperative,” says Dristirupa Patgiri, Restaurant Point of Contact (POC), RHA, Guwahati chapter.
She adds, “We don’t compromise with the quality of the food. The volunteer, before collecting the food, checks whether it is stale or not. We also look into the hygiene part. Our main motive is to eliminate hunger.” Patgiri is an LLM graduate and has worked with several NGOs in the past.
Super Robin Kaustuv Choudhury, who is also the proprietor of Stoic Marketing Solutions, Guwahati, shares, “No doubt I have a secure career but there are certain things which one should do for a good night’s sleep. Things which give you joy. It may sound cliché; nonetheless it’s true that money cannot buy you happiness. It brings a sense of fulfillment. So we volunteers at times sacrifice our weekends to see the dull faces brighten up when you feed them.”
The RHA conducts mid-week drives which are usually done at night and Sunday drives are mostly day-drives.
“Whenever we are notified about leftover food, we collect that. Sometimes, we are notified about leftover food at night. If we realize that the food items collected is perishable, we distribute the food at night itself. If we see that the food can be stored, we don’t disturb people while they sleep, and store it for the night to distribute the food the next day in the morning or at any hour whenever it is feasible,” states Choudhury.
Apart from Choudhury, Gitartha Goswami and Maninder Kalsi are the Super Robins of the Army who collect and distribute food even post 10:30pm. The operation starts when Patgiri receives calls from restaurants intimating her of the closing time.
“She receives a call around the closing time of the mentioned outlets. Immediately, she updates the information on our Whatsapp as well as Facebook group. She ensures that our Robin meets the concerned person for collection. The volunteers also brings along leftovers from home. They use their own vehicle or car pools with other volunteers,” informed Ahmed.
She further states, “We not only encourage zero-wastage from restaurants but also from our homes. Every Robin who joins for the Sunday drives gets excess food from his or her home, packed securely to distribute. We have received excess food from birthday parties, engagement parties and dinner parties. Whenever we go for food partner scouting, we leave our numbers with them. In case they have any excess food which can be distributed, they call us immediately. Through our drives in the city, we have become friends with some of the people. The Sukreswar folks know us by our names now and ask us how we are.”
On being quizzed about the challenges the RHA faced in Guwahati, the Army captain shares the team needs more Robins to reach to the maximum people.
“The team needs more people to cover the entire town. The Robin Hood Army’s ideology revolves around decentralization. We need to build teams that shoulder the responsibility for specific areas; scout for local restaurants, convince them to donate surplus food, identify clusters of people in need such as the homeless and orphanages and carry out weekly distributions. Very soon, we are planning to conduct awareness drives in colleges across the city. The student community will be a great addition to our army as they are energetic and enjoy comparatively a flexible schedule unlike working professionals,” says Ahmed.
Speaking on the same line, Choudhury says, “We need volunteers who can be regular and dedicate couple of hours from their busy schedule on an everyday basis.”
Till the team grows big in numbers, the Army captain is happy with the growing camaraderie between the Robins and the hungry ones. Since May 22, Sundays are no longer monotonous for this bunch of Merry Men.
“Each journey is special in its own way. Each journey taught us to appreciate what we have rather than cribbing what we don’t. At the end of the day, when you know that someone is not sleeping hungry, is what makes all the difference. It motivates you to wake up next day and continue doing what you are doing without any complaints,” says an emotional Ahmed.
As another Sunday approaches in 24 hours, the Army gets ready to feed the hungry ones and in between catching up with life, may be in slices.