When Hyderabad-based businessman Azam Khan and IT specialist Khaled Sifullah realized how the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) was going to affect India’s needy, they quickly sprung into action. Sifullah developed the software for an app called Free Ration, and Khan and Sifullah are using the app to help Indians across the country access food, a critical need as millions of daily-wage workers are kept from earning a living during a countrywide shutdown.
“If we were going to help someone, we knew we would have to do it from a distance,” Khan said. “People would need food, but we could not go door to door to help them.”
Free Ration was born. Through a smartphone app, people in need of food can fill out an application to get 600 rupees of food supplies. Those without a smartphone can call a toll-free number to give their information to staff at Free Ration’s call center. Free Ration partners with small local grocers to help beneficiaries get the food they need while also supporting local businesses.
As the coronavirus rages on, experts warn that a side effect of the virus could result in unprecedented levels of hunger and poverty. While 135 million people around the world already face food shortages, the World Food Program (WPF) estimates that 265 million people could face acute hunger by the end of 2020.
In India, the problem is particularly severe. 80 percent of India’s workforce is in the informal sector, leaving these workers in a particularly vulnerable position. Many of these laborers have little to no savings and are forced to stand in line for limited government rations.
To apply for Free Ration, a beneficiary can fill out an application through the Smartphone App or call the toll-free number. After the customer gives information about the size of her family, occupation, and medical needs, Free Ration locates a nearby store to supply the family with the requested rations. The local shopkeeper receives a message to create a ration pack for the beneficiary, who can pick up the pack or have it delivered.
To apply for Free Ration, a beneficiary can fill out an application through the smartphone app or call call the toll-free number.
Families with 4-5 members receive 600 rupees worth of food, and families with more than 5 members receive 1200 rupees. 600 rupees (approximately 8 dollars) provides a family of four 3 meals a day for between 7-10 days.
Free Ration allows families to select whatever items they need from the store. Packs may include sanitary pads, over-the-counter medicine, water, milk, slippers, and other necessities in addition to food. Food can also be tailored to the palette of the family.
“In South India they might prefer rice, somewhere else they might prefer jowar atta (sorghum flour),” Khan said. “One place they could be favoring onions and another place they would be having more chiles and spices. You take whatever suits you better, whatever will keep your family satisfied for the next 10-15 days.”
Free Ration has helped around 2,000 families get rations, and the organization is continuing to develop the capacity to do more. Still, the organization is in need of more funds.
“Donations are an acute need,” Khan said. “We are looking at 150,000 families in and around Hyderabad who will need to be supported for at least a couple of months.”
If you would like to contribute to Free Ration’s efforts but live outside of India, you can visit the Singh Foundation website and click on the first button, “Donate to COVID-19 Relief Work in India,” which will ensure that the donation is directed toward Free Ration. Singh Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and US donations are tax exempt.