Mumbai’s Dabbawalas Are Feeding Leftover Party Food To The Poor

Over 25 crore people or more than 20% of the Indian population lives below the poverty line and goes to bed hungry every night, the most in the world. This rings starkly in contrast to the multitude of food based startups and restaurants that have mushroomed all over the country in the recent past. The food problem is most telling of the vast disparity between the haves and haves not in the country.

poor hungry indian
image: The Statesman

But, people are stepping in to take charge. After we highlighted how TCS and other IT companies are looking to discourage food wastage in their campuses, here’s a set of people who’re looking to deal with food wastage that’s rampant at Indian weddings and parties.

The famous Dabbawallas of Mumbai have stepped in with a unique idea, the Roti Banka plan to prevent wastage of food at social gatherings. Their aim is to collect exceed food at parties and households and distribute it to the poor and hungry.

“An average wedding has 500 guests and food wastage is inevitable. Usually this food is trashed or fed to the local butcheries. And it needs to be distributed and consumed within an hour or it will spoil.”, says Subhash Talekar, the man heading the initiative. 

“We deal with food every day, so we’re ideally placed to fix this,” says Dashrath Kedare, a co-founder of the Roti Bank and a leader of one of the dabbawalla unions. Indeed, only the Dabbawallas that famously ferry over 200,000 tiffin boxes to working classes from their homes to offices and back seamlessly and efficiently and with almost 0 error could be entrusted with such a complex but important task.

Nearly 400 dabbawalas are working round the clock to pull off this non-profit initiative.


The Dabbawalas are also mulling over ways to schedule a pick up even when the quantity of food is little. They are planning to station one member from the union at local stations at all times where people can drop by and hand-over the leftovers

While, the response to the initiative has been overwhelming, the Dabbawallas that earn a paltry sum of Rs. 11000-12000 per month, are doing this purely on a non-profit basis. They are volunteering to squeeze time between the regular deliveries to deliver the food to the poor, within their vicinities. They realise that it’s not a sustainable solution, and hoping that NGOs and governments will step in at some point to help them scale up the initiative.


The humble Dabbawallas are playing the perfect middlemen between the rich to feel less guilty about wasting food and the poor that need it the most.