Meet ‘Roti Bank’ Mahoba Founding member : Tara Patkar
Bank,” or “bread bank,” is a year-old effort to provide free food to needy
people in the Mahoba district of the Bundelkhand region of India, a place that
is suffering from a prolonged drought and a decreasing supply of subterranean
water. Reuters spoke to Tara Patkar about how the programme works. Here are the
edited excerpts of the interview:
Q: How does the Roti Bank work?
A: Initially it started with five to 10 people, all of them friends. We
decided to bring two rotis each from our homes, along with some curry. We
thought we must complete this by 7 p.m. to have enough time to distribute the
food. Now, we collect food from around 700 families. There are some centres
where people come and take food, while we distribute it door to door also. It’s
not possible to cover each and every area door to door, so we have also
installed boxes at 21 places in Mahoba where people can drop food between 10
a.m. and 7 p.m.
Q: How many people do you feed every day?
A: Around 1,000 people.
Q: Do you provide the food absolutely free?
Q: I am sure it was not at all a smooth ride.
A: When we went to important areas of the city to distribute food, everyone
would start looking at us curiously. That made us uncomfortable. Some people
even asked what were we doing. But when we told them, they appreciated our
Q: Did they offer to help?
A: Within a few days. This is how the movement spread, by word of mouth, from
one person to other. In the first month of Roti Bank, we had 50 people with us
and in three months, there were around 450 volunteers. Now we have around 1,000
Q: How do you cover each and every needy?
A: I can’t claim we cover everyone. But we have provided helpline numbers and
requested people to let us know about anyone who needs food.
Q: Bundelkhand generally is facing a food crisis because of droughts. Did
you try to connect with those villagers?
A: Drought is one of the main reasons for food crisis. This area is
traditionally arid. Also, not everyone owns farmland. A lot of people from this
area have migrated to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai in search of jobs but
they don’t earn enough to take care of their families back home. We contacted
Pradhans (village heads) to know about such families facing acute financial
Q: Is it limited only to food?
A: At times, we provided clothes also. We requested people to donate their
used clothes which were in good condition.
Q: Do you pay people to work?
A: There is no money involved at any stage. We even brought some doctors to
our centres for health check-ups, and they didn’t charge anyone.
Q: How do you differentiate between people who need food and people who
are just looking for a free meal?
A: Mahoba is a small town, so it’s relatively easy to figure out. But yes,
sometimes some people do sneak in. We cannot stop the whole initiative just
because of a few people.