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A Joyous Happenstance: When the Intense Parenting Stage Ended I Joined the Robin Hood Army

A Joyous Happenstance: When the Intense Parenting Stage Ended I Joined the Robin Hood Army

  • It has been an incredible four years of meeting and working with numerous voluntary organizations and people doing phenomenal work.

It was sort of a game-changer when I turned 50 years old. Maybe it is just me, but once every decade, I get into a panicky, existential crisis mode as faithful as the old geyser. 

This time it was a bit different though. For a change, it was very clear what I need to do. The kids were all grown up now, and the intense parenting stage was over. Though my older one with special needs still takes the first and high priority every day, I still had time and the energy to do a bit more. So, I was all set to plunge into my second innings of life, by stepping into the social workspace. I have been doing some voluntary work now and then, but nothing serious. Present and now was about the right time. If not now, when.

Have to say that it has been a super exciting process to embark on this new journey. The goal has been to explore different areas and see whatever was in store ahead. No agenda or plans. Basically, take things as it comes my way. 

Right now, it has been an amazing four years now of meeting and working with numerous voluntary organizations and people doing a phenomenal body of work. The excitement is palpable, and there are still miles to go before I sleep. 

But, I want to share my very first experience in social work was with Robin Hood Army back in 2019.

It was by sheer happenstance that I met these wonderful, young volunteers from the Robin Hood ArmyHad heard about their work on food waste management, was curious and so asked them about what and how they operate. They were eager and explained all the details. And, I was immediately in. 

The Robin Hood Army is a volunteer-based NPO started in 2014, that works to get surplus food from restaurants to the less fortunate sections of society in cities across India and 10 other countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka in the Indian subcontinent, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia in South-East Asia, Egypt in Africa, Mexico in North America and Melbourne in Australia. As of now, the organization consists of over 216,884 volunteers in 401 cities and has served food to over 117.35 million people. The organization reaches out to homeless families, orphanages, night shelters, homes for abandoned children, patients from public hospitals, etc.

It was an amazing and efficient way in which the mostly young 20 to 30-somethings who have hectic corporate jobs, come together on weekends with a common goal of serving the poor. There is a lot of flexibility in the timings which is good, also, everyone is most conscious of not wasting anyone’s time or effort. The main objective is to avoid food waste, and to basically “Robin Hood” excess from one source and give it where it is needed. They also do teaching, clothes donation, etc., but the food is the centerpiece of the organization. All communication is done only on social media, like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  

I was also simply awed by the decentralized structure, yet there was a clear command in line in place. Also, the zero-funds policy is a brilliant one, because egalitarianism is built in this way.

No wonder the prestigious Harvard Business School has picked it up as a case study and will now be taught in the MBA program. “It is an interesting case study of an organization that has achieved some scale, both within India and internationally, but without any financial support,” said Brian Trelstad, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School (HBS), who will teach the case study in a course on social entrepreneurship and innovation.

To date, it has been a wonderful journey to work with the volunteers and be a part of many food drives. The joy we get when we distribute food, blankets or clothes and toys to children is just heart-warming, especially during the tough covid times.

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One reason I was quite drawn by the RHA is because the concept of food is close to my heart. Both my parents were very conscious about food in their own way. My mother to date runs a community kitchen back in our home in Chennai. Whenever I visit, it’s mind-boggling how many people walk into our house, eat and go with a full stomach and heart. 

My late father used to do regular food donations at a temple near our house in Chennai back in the 80s. For a middle-class family like ours, it was not very affordable to do large donations. But, his maxim which was drilled into us as children were to help those in need the most and always keep the underprivileged in our minds and hearts. 

He was the most affectionate, loving and caring, intellectually stimulating, fiercely protective and amazing father a daughter could ever have. Always encouraged me to build strong opinions and never be afraid to tell the truth. In his eyes, I could do nothing wrong. When a parent gives you that much confidence, you become invincible and can take on any challenge the world throws at you- with a dare. There are days when I feel like I’m lucky and privileged to have won the “Parental lottery,” to quote Randy Pausch in “The Last Lecture.”

Whatever little bit of goodness in me today, I completely owe it to my father.

Jayashree Srikanth lived in the United States for 16 years, then moved to Bangalore with her husband and two daughters. She is a proud homeschooler of a special needs kid, who has a successful art career now and has won several awards including carrying the torch for the Rio Paralympics, in 2015. Her younger daughter is studying Neuroscience and Psychology at UCLA. Social work, writing, and traveling are her passionate hobbies.

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