In response to India’s simultaneous lack and surplus of food, Mumbai’s lunch deliverers, called dabbawallas, have begun a program for redistributing extra food that they call the Roti Bank.

In Hindi it is said that survival requires makaan, meaning shelter, kapda or clothing, and roti, meaning bread or food. This roti has found 46 million in India obese. However, 194.6 million people, also in India, go without it — making up more than half the world total of undernourished people.

There are some soup-kitchen equivalents in India, but the Roti Bank would connect those who have too much food with those who do not have enough. Enter the dabbawallas.

Everyday in India, people send their own home-cooked meals to their workplace using the dabbawallas, or “the ones with boxes.” Dabbawallas travel the city by train, bicycle, and on foot to deliver food. Often, after events such as weddings, the dabbawallas regularly witness large amounts of food go to waste. Subhash Talekar, leader of the dabbawallas’ union, had an idea to put the excess food to better use.

The dabbawallas can now serve food to the less fortunate through the Roti Bank initiative. “We travel these routes every day. We know exactly where the poor people gather,” Talekar says. Dabbawallas are commissioned in pairs to pick up the food and subsequently distribute it at the nearest homeless gathering spot they know. After publicizing their number for delivery, they receive about 20 to 30 calls a day

Taleka admits that the system is not sustainable, as the dabbawallas volunteer their time and bicycle mileage themselves, but he hopes for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to pick up the initiative.

Until then, serves as the collective’s resource for those who would like to learn more or donate food.


As a Midwestern girl, Josie enjoys living in the plains, but would love to travel the globe, already having spent several months abroad during her studies in Austria. After graduating, she spends much of her time reading, writing, walking, running, dancing, and living! Josie would love nothing more than to empower others to be able to do the same.