October 4, 2022

Issa Fathima Jasmine setting up public refrigerators

A newspaper report on a public refrigerator in Bangalore caught our interest and we wanted to know if the concept really worked.

When we reached the allocated destination, we were delighted to see there were old clothes stacked, shoes and food in a cover in the refrigerator.

Particularly there are shelves like in a cupboard where one can leave shoes, books, toys, utensils along with food. We did a short video last week when we reached the BTM layout refrigerator venue so that it would encourage us and others to contribute what is there in excess in their homes time and again and give it to someone in need, if the excess in good usable condition.

Also we did find out that there was a single individual who began this initiative, we wanted to know more on the concept, the idea and what promoted this individual to take this wonderful concept ahead with public support.

It added to our happiness when found out the individual was also a mum, so we here we bring one of the interesting stories from this inspiring mum. It is so very much required to highlight mums like these who can surely inspire others.

Meet Issa Fathima Jasmine who is the founder of the Public Foundation that runs the public refrigerators in Chennai and Bangalore. Having four of them in Chennai, the refrigerator has now come to Bangalore too since the last few months, thanks to a much required interest shown by a Bangalorean who took on the role of a project co-ordinator for this concept in his area.

Speaking to Mums and Stories Issa Fathima Jasmine shares, “It all began when I would give excess food to a lady near my house as I really didn’t like food going waste. There would be many occasions when I would have a little excess food and I wouldn’t even know whom to share it with except this woman. Unfortunately one day she died and along with the bond of being disconnected with the person, I had the problem again of throwing food to garbage just because it was in a little excess quantity at home. Soon it got me thinking of my wish list if there was a space where the food can be kept and someone in need could utilize it the same day.

Then the idea of refrigerator came along and it was time to work with the corporation or the malls. I was doing rounds across different spaces and talking to various people, but without any luck. Most people just couldn’t understand what I was trying to convey through a public refrigerator. They kept asking questions like “Who will ensure what happens to the food? Will it remain good or go stale?” Who will pay for the electricity? What will we benefit from this?  Large stores had concerns if their business will be affected by keeping such refrigerators outside their stores. I didn’t have all the answers or perhaps I was not good at convincing everyone. Then I had to do a recheck on going and getting things done. So as a primary step, we registered the organization as even otherwise it is a group and community effort rather than one individual taking this concept ahead.

Then it was time to visit the corporations again and finally they came around on agreeing for the initiative. So now it is Public Foundation which runs this concept with the help of volunteers, project co-ordinators, people who contribute food, shoes, clothes and even people who utilize it without any embarrassment.

Now there were more conditions from the end of the corporations and the agencies.  We have to be careful that the refrigerator placed where there is no risk of electricity malfunction. It shouldn’t be at a place where there is the possibility of a digging of the roads and so many issues came up front, which we weren’t aware of when conceptualizing the project. As it is generally placed on the main road, there are issues that come up and need to be addressed.”

(Refrigerator and cupboard in BTM Layout, set up by The Public Foudnation. Photograph by Mums and Stories).

Issa Fathima shares further, “It is incredible how most of us living in urban landscapes assume people who are in the lower ring of the ladder and the society have access to food, or even nutritious food all the time.

We have had bus drivers, auto drivers, bus conductors, taxi drivers, beggars, destitutes walking and picking food and other things and get going in their lives. Only when I started doing the project, I realized how many drivers and others who can’t afford good nutritious food all the time make do with just rice and gulp it with water. So now we ask people to sometimes leave even raw vegetables (in good condition only) in the refrigerators.

Maybe your gesture may make someone’s healthy meal in their home for one day.”

(Photograph by Mums and Stories)

Issa Fathima Jasmine, talking to Mums and Stories, further talks on her various interests in life, “The project is an important part of my life, but it is really important, “ she stresses.

She shares, “I am also an orthodontist, a mum to a fifteen-year old who in fact encouraged me a lot to get this done somehow. I also run a boutique and yes I do follow various interests in life. It is strange that many were advising me that I am too young to begin a charity. So when is it a good time to start something noble? I used to organize a clothes recycle drive even in college, over a decade ago.

For me it was not just about me but getting a community involved and seeing to it that the impact is felt in the lives of the people who require it.”

When we asked Issa Fathima Jasmine if there have been instances which has made her more connected and encouraged to do this more , she answers, “ Many times I have cried from a distance watching someone really in need who is in a shattered phase of life, in tattered clothes and expressing a huge smile just by seeing food in good condition , rather than sorting it from the garbage bin. So many clothes now come to the shelves along with stationary and even toys too. I am very sure those who pick it up have a lot of cherished value in their lives”

The Public Foundation is looking for interested project co ordinators, volunteers and others who can help them in setting up more refrigerators in areas in Bangalore or elsewhere too. For more details do get in touch with them on thepublicfoundation@gmail.com or call at 9884466228
We at Mums and Stories wish Issa and the team to lead and bring more such initiatives in their neighborhoods for others to lean, imbibe and share.

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