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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Rintu Rathod Of Food Army Raids On Our Hearts With Love Of Chocolate Ganesha

  • IWB Post
  •  August 30, 2017

 

What is that one thing that would make even the times of a calamity seem less difficult? Yep! You guessed it right. That one touch of humanity, which says that someone somewhere cares for you, soothes away the pain of the adversity.

Founded in 2014 by the designer turned home-baker, Rintu Rathod, Food Army has been the source of relief for many affected by disasters like the Kashmir floods of 2014 or Nepal earthquakes. Whatever be the calamity, Food Army rises like a phoenix to the occasion and makes sure that help is provided to everyone who needs it regardless of the perils they face.

What brought Rintu Rathod into the further limelight is her unique “Chocolate Ganesha idols,” which she makes every year on Ganesh Chaturthi. Wanting to know more about this ‘Army’ and its commander, we engaged in a conversation with Rintu Rathod.

Who is the Food Army?

It’s a group of like minded people. We’re not an NGO. We don’t believe in monetary gain through our initiative. It all started in 2014 at the time of the Kashmir floods; I wanted to do something for the flood-victims. The army is the first to arrive with help, but they provide all the dry foods like biscuits and stuff. I thought that for how many days someone can actually survive on that, they must crave for the home cooked, fresh food. So I decided to make theplas as they remain fresh longer than rotis or puris, and send them across. I contacted my friends in Mumbai and shared my idea that I am doing so. And they agreed, with the condition that everyone would make 25 theplas.

Food Army

We send the message of the initiative on Whatsapp to people we knew, and it went viral and we ended up collecting 35,000 theplas at the time! When we went to the airlines to transport the food across, they refused to charge us as they were inspired by our efforts. After that so many people had appreciated my idea, I decided to make it a permanent group.

What inspired you to pick up this mission?

During 2005 Mumbai floods, I was alone at home, with a full-term pregnancy, and my husband was stuck in the office. My sister, who is a doctor and stays 15 minutes away from me, could not reach me as her house was totally flooded. There was no water, electricity or much food at home. The helplessness overlapped me. So at the time of Kashmir floods, I decided to help the victims, and the rest is history.

Why the name ‘Food Army?’

Its main purpose is to reach out to the people affected by any calamities with the home cooked food with speed of an Army. Our mission is to eliminate hunger from our country.

What commandments does your army follow by heart?

The Food Army soldiers are always ready to help. We strictly abide by the rule – never to accept any monetary donation. Whatever we send across is home cooked, we make sure that it is fresh. We check every theplas and pack them ourselves with utmost care.

Have you ever received any response from the places you provided help to?

Always. Their messages have so much love and blessings.

Tell us about your family. How often do they raid your kitchen?

Well, there are three of us – my husband, my 12-year-old son and me. They always support me wholeheartedly in all my endeavors. My husband is my inspiration and my main support. During the Kashmir floods, my very first mission, he was the one who motivated me to go ahead and not worry about anything as he would arrange for the transportation.

In fact, whenever someone asks my son if he helps me in making the chocolate Ganesha, he answers, “YES!!’ And you know how he helps? (laughs) He helps by not interfering in my work and after the visarjan (immersing the idol) he helps me by chugging down the chocolate milk!

What were you doing before the Food Army?

I am a commercial designer turned designer Baker. I make life size cakes and chocolate sculptures. I balance my life between my family, my business, and the Food Army. All are very important for me.

Can you remember the times when your kitchen resembled the scenario of a war zone?

Always! At the time of any calamity, when we are conducting any drive. All the checking and packing is also done at my house. We always work on a war footing at the time when calamity strikes.

We heard about your unique ‘Chocolate Ganesha,’ tell us more about it?

I have been making my Ganesha idol from chocolate for the last six years now. It started in 2011. I immerse my idol in milk and distribute the resultant chocolate milk among the underprivileged children. The idea is to worship the god by not only avoiding to pollute our own environment but by also bringing about a smile on a child’s face. It’s not only an eco-friendly idol but also the very symbol of humanity. People across the globe have appreciated my idea.

Food Army

And, what is the magic process of its making?

It’s all handmade. No expired food products are being used in the process. It’s made of chocolate and corn syrup. Rest all is God’s grace.

Why did you pick Ganesha?

Ganesha is my beloved deity and I don’t like this destruction in the name of devotion. That’s when I came up with the chocolate Ganesha idea. Where visarjan happens inside us. Nothing goes out, and nothing goes waste.

Food Army

You give the chocolate milk to underprivileged kids. One kid, you remember from your ‘Ganesha chocolate feast?’

There was this one kid who liked the milk so much that he kept on requesting for one more glass. He must have consumed 3-4 glasses before we had to ask him to stop. Even after that, he licked his glass clean.

Food Army

Share with us memorable Ganesh Chaturthi stories from your childhood.

I used to carry a container with me when we visited various pandals for darshan.  I remember filling it up with goodies which we used to get as prasad.

How did you celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in 2017? What was special?

This year I have made a total of 28 idols which had gone in different parts of the country.

That’s impressive! We heard about you wanting to teach others how to make your unique Ganesha.

Last year I had conducted many workshops to teach people how to make chocolate Ganesha. It was all free of charge. More than 1000 people attended. This year I conducted one-to-one classes to teach the making of the big chocolate Ganesha idols. Today many people follow my idea.

What are other initiatives of Food Army?

Now we have more than 1000 members, so we do many other activities as well. We provide food on a regular basis to the kids coming to study at the Ramkrishna mission’s free coaching classes and to the girls at the rescue foundation. We run free classes for the underprivileged children and also conduct awareness drives.

You mentioned that Food Army is not a monetary organization, so how does it function?

The Food Army never accepts money. You provide food or your time. Whatever expenses are there it is borne by the core team of six people. Rintu Rathod, Vinita Hurkat, Shefali Thaker, Sunita Hurkat, Dr. Krishna Desai, Neetu Singh

 

Do you have any more eco-friendly ideas in mind that can be used to make the idol?

Last year I had done a plant Ganesha project with deaf and mute children. I had taught them how to create an idol around a plant. When you pour water in to immerse the idol, it will turn into a lump of clay in the pot itself. We sold many plant Ganesha and the money made was entirely utilized for the kids. Next year I am planning to make idols in many other innovative ways that can protect the environment and feed the poor at the same time.

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