A solitary fridge and an open cupboard with five shelves stand next to each other outside the Besant Nagar Tennis Club. We wonder what’s it and take a closer look, we notice that it’s not locked, but a security guard sits beside them with a notebook. Ready to greet us. He doesn’t guard the thing and keeps us away from seeing it. His only job is to make sure everything there is fit for people to use.
Ayyamitu Unn, a community fridge and donation counter set up on August 20 by orthodontist Dr. Issa Fathima Jasmine is an open place for people to give and receive.
Every day, from 9 am to 7 pm, people from nearby areas place fruits, biscuits, water and cooked meals inside the fridge. Others put shoes, socks, clothes, books and more on the shelves. Throughout the day, pavement dwellers, beggars, street children, and anyone else in need can come and take whatever they want from the fridge and shelves. They need not pay a penny.
Ayyamittu Unn is a line from Aathichoodi written by Avvaiyar which means share the food with needy before you eat, tells Jasmine in her Interview with The News Minute.
“I have been living here for a while and I see so many people living in poverty, without a roof over their heads and a meal they can afford. So many walk without shoes. I have had this idea of a community fridge for about four months but could only execute it now,” says the 34-year-old orthodontist, a resident of Besant Nagar and the Managing Trustee of The Public Foundation, which runs the initiative.
Every day at least 100 donors and recipients have been coming to the Ayyamittu Unn. Jasmine tells the response has been great and unexpected. She often gets calls from people who want to cook food, especially for the community initiative. People want to celebrate their special occasion by feeding the needy and many volunteers to cook in large numbers for them.
All the food, she explains, is monitored to ensure that people are not just getting rid of discarded or spoilt food. “The donors have to make an entry in the register before they leave, and the guard checks the expiry date and if the food is fit to be consumed. We don’t want people falling sick,” Jasmine asserts.
The initiative has been getting an immense response from everyone. On August 26, for instance, a group of school children arrived at the Tennis Club, wanting to see Jasmine and make donations to Ayyamittu Unn. They made sandwiches and promised to save money to donate to the cause.
Donors have understood the concept really well and Jasmine even gets calls from across India and Singapore enquiring if they can courier food and other things to help the people.
“Although the donors have responded well, the recipients of Ayyamittu Unn have sometimes been very hesitant.” Says Jasmine who visits the place four times a day and checks on the recipients without telling them who she is.
“Many times, they will just come there and look at the items in the fridge. They will not open it. I ask them why, and they say that they don’t know if it’s for them. They say that it must be for the marathon runners, as it’s a route they often take,” Jasmine narrates.
“It makes me a little sad that they are so wary of kindness. They are so used to being ignored that they cannot believe that someone is doing something for them without expecting something in return,” she adds.
Jasmine says that she hopes to start more such community fridges in other areas of Chennai if time and resources permit. “I just started this with no expectations. But the kind of response it has got makes me believe that there is more hope than we believe,” she smiles.