They feed the hungry and enable hotels and restaurants to prevent waste.
Aditi Phadnis reports on how a simple idea became a movement transcending borders.
Is it charity? Not really.
Is it philanthropy? Not exactly.
If you volunteer to be part of the Robin Hood Army (RHA) all you have to donate is your time -- once a week -- to get surplus food from restaurants to people who are less fortunate.
It is a totally decentralised organisation that bridges the gap between the hungry and the set-ups that have food to spare -- hotels, dhabas, restaurants.
Local chapters are run by groups of friends (and the circle is ever widening) who want to make a difference in whatever small way they can. For example, restaurants in Green Park, New Delhi, will contribute to the homeless of the locality via volunteers who live in Green Park.
Volunteers are largely students and young working professionals. The less fortunate sections that the RHA helps to serve include homeless families, night shelters, orphanages, and patients from public hospitals.
The brainchild of Neel Ghose and Anand Sinha, the RHA works across 22 cities in India -- including in neighbouring Pakistan.
Ghose was living and working in Lisbon, Portugal, when he stumbled upon Refood, an organisation that redistributes excess food to the needy through volunteers.
"I observed their processes and spent some time with the founder understanding the basic workings of the model, before deciding to try something similar back home with Anand. The need, of course, was much greater in India" Ghose says.
Photographs: @NeelGhose/LinkedIn and @anandsinha3/Twitter.
The way it works is: Small teams -- mostly young professionals -- scout for local restaurants, convince them to donate surplus food, identify clusters of people in need -- such as the homeless and orphanages -- and carry out weekly distributions.
A WhatsApp group called the Boiler Room, has the heads of all city chapters across India and Pakistan. Through this, best practices are shared among the teams so that 'we can learn from each other'.
The teams run like mini start-ups.
Ghose says local problems -- and solutions -- are the key.
In Delhi, for instance, in the current phase of harsh winter, RHA will suspend food distribution and will focus on making sure the homeless have adequate warm clothes and blankets to see them through the cold spell.
"The overall objective is to inspire the community to give back to those who need it most," said Ghose.
The organisation has no political or religious backing. It is very careful in ensuring that the food it offers is safe to be consumed. And it accepts no monetary donations. If people want to, they can give in kind; or better still donate their time.
There is an RHA in Pakistan as well. Ghose says Sarah Afridi (who set up RHA Pakistan) was a friend from college.
"We studied together at the London School of Economics. When the Peshawar school attack occurred, I called to offer my condolences. We started talking about the Robin Hood Army and realised that both countries are plagued by similar evils of hunger, wastage, and inequality. This is a way we can create real impact. Currently, Team Pakistan has chapters in Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore with a couple of hundred active Robins" he says.
So far, RHA has fed 4,23,6531 people. This is 1 per cent of the people who are hungry.
Their army comprises 12,550 volunteers. And they operate in 53 cities worldwide.