This Indian Railways employee has been feeding thousands of families during the lockdown

Khushroo Poacha

Kushroo Poacha has been doing this without taking a single rupee as donation!

He’s a superintendent with the commercial department of the Indian Railways but in Nagpur, where he was born and lives, Khushroo Poacha is a messiah. For some years now, Poacha has been feeding the needy and the hungry using the power of WhatsApp groups. In 2014, he started Seva Kitchen a crowd-sourcing initiative that provides food and nourishment for caretakers and families of patients admitted in Nagpur hospitals. The concept was simple: hospital staff would post the requirements of the number of patients and their caretakers who needed to be served meals and the following day a bunch. Of volunteers from the group would make sure that the food would be made available.

Along similar lines is the concept of Neki Ka Pitara or Box of Kindness. The Pitara is basically a refrigerator that serves patients and their families, refreshments. There are several Seva Kitchens and Neki Ka Pitaras around the country now. These refrigerators contain all kinds of goodies – think lassi packets, chocolates, fresh fruits and biscuits – and like Seva Kitchen, these refrigerators get replenished as soon as they are empty. “The moment someone alerts that the pitara is empty, volunteers come together and refill the stock,” Poacha says.

What makes Poacha’s efforts so different from the others is the fact that he refuses to accept a single rupee as donation. He continues to maintain a full-time job with the Indian Railways that helps him run his house. This, he does out of the goodness of his heart. Since there’s absolutely no money involved, people tend to trust Poacha more willingly. From industrialists to everyday people, everyone does their bit and Poacha and his volunteers keep the engine running.

As the coronavirus pandemic hit India, Poacha, who also runs indianblooddonors.com and plateletdonors.org, simply scaled up his operations. “Nagpur is a hotspot right now because every major train passes through the city. When the train services opened up, more than a hundred trains that passed through Nagpur Junction in a single day!” he says.

But thanks to his existing network, Poacha has been able to raise food and aid material worth more than ₹40 lakh and has touched the lives of more than 6,000 families. He’s also helped raise and provide for rice to more than 60,000 people. While major corporations and HNIs have been donating crores in funds, Poacha’s help is more immediate and real because he provides precisely what is needed – food and nutrition. His efforts have also got the attention of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who called him to thank him for what he’s been doing.

While he has traditionally relied on WhatsApp groups in the past to organise food for the needy, the sheer volume of requirement has risen due to the pandemic. To add to it, the lockdown has made it difficult for people to step out of their homes. And so, Poacha also urges people to contribute to donatekart.com, which redirects your donation to the grocery store that in turn creates packages that he sends out to the people in need.

“At no stage do we accept any money,” he reiterates.

Poacha’s journey into social activism began nearly 20 years ago. At 16, after he lost his father, Poacha had to take up a clerical-level job at the Indian Railways. But as he went about his daily chores, Poacha couldn’t help but notice the number of people who were dying, simply because they weren’t able to get blood on time. And so he started what may have well been the first private blood donation directory in the country, indianblooddonors.com. This was 20 years ago. Back then, he would connect the donor and the receiver over the phone because mobiles were still rare and WhatsApp was non-existent. When an earthquake hit Gujarat in 2001 and he discovered that the victims were facing shortage of blood, he requested a private TV channel to run his website name on their ticker and Poacha was in business.

The idea of feeding the needy came when he saw an old lady outside a Nagpur city hospital sitting on the side of the road making roti. He returned home and told this story to his mother, who simply asked him: Why don’t you feed her?

And Poacha hasn’t stopped since.