Minu Pauline, a restaurant owner from Kochi, in southern India, recently made news headlines not for her culinary expertise but her awe-inspiring generosity. She maintains a fully stocked, unlocked refrigerator outside her restaurant, filled with free fresh meals for the homeless.
Minu, whose popular food joint Pappadavada has been operating since 2013, was struck by the sight of homeless people digging for food from the garbage bins behind her kitchen. “I have often seen the homeless and the hungry, especially the aged, rummage through garbage scouring for food,” she told The Hindu. “They are looking for some leftovers or stale food to quell their hunger, and it disturbs me.”
So when she opened a second branch in another part of the city last week, she also installed a fridge outside and named it ‘Nanma Maram’ (the tree of goodness). The fridge is always stocked with about 50 packets of freshly cooked food from the restaurant, for people to reach for when they are hungry. “I was asked, ‘What if someone, not necessarily needy, took the food?’” she said. “My answer was, ‘I’ll just put my faith in the goodness of the folks.’”
Minu isn’t new to making bold, unconventional decisions. Three years ago, she quit her well-paying, stable bank job to fulfill her dream of becoming an entrepreneur. That’s when she opened the first outlet of Pappadavada, a restaurant serving popular local dishes like appams, egg curry, and of course pappadavadas, which are papadums dunked in a rice batter and deep fried. The Nanma Maram initiative is an extension of her passion for outside-the-box ideas.
But the project isn’t something she wants to claim as her own. Instead, she wants it to become a community activity, a movement that she hopes will spread across the city – at other restaurants, homes, hostels, and anywhere else where there’s a chance of food going to waste. Until then, she’s committed to filling the fridge with 50 packets every single day, even if the food she has to offer isn’t rich or extravagant. “I am not saying I am going to give biriyani, but I will ensure there is food inside,” she said. “There will be something here every day, and eventually I hope there will be so much that no hungry person will leave here hungry.”
In the short time that the fridge has been running, several homeless people have already lined up to collect free meals. Since the fridge is open 24×7, people have been leaving food in it too – about 200 to 300 packets find their way into the fridge every single day. That is quite a significant contribution from locals, considering the fact that 40 percent of food in India goes bad even before it can be consumed.
Mini has only one request – that the food people leave should be well packaged and fresh, not stale. She’s even left a marker beside the fridge for people to write the date on the packets they leave behind. “Someone asked me why I bothered to set up a fridge, when I could just put food out for people in a tray,” she explained. “But that is the whole point of installing a fridge – so food won’t spoil.”
Mini insists that Nanma Maram is not an elaborate scheme to boost sales at her new restaurant, and to prove it she discourages customers from buying food at her shop to leave in the fridge. “This is not a campaign to make people invest more in charity; the idea is to use what you already have, to donate the food that you might waste. We bear the cost of the fridge and the electricity, and keep it open for 24 hours a day, every day.”
“What I can say is that, ‘If you have extra food at home, or if you eat out and find that you have extra food, come and drop it in this refrigerator.’”
Photos: Minu Pauline/Pappadavada/Facebook