It was a spam email seeking donation for an old age home that directed New-York-based chef Vikas Khanna's attention to the plight of lakhs of migrant workers stuck across India without food and shelter.
He realised how the lockdown was affecting them adversely and decided to help. In a couple of days with help from social media, he managed to create a network of general stores and truck drivers to source and distribute food cooked as well as dry ration to those in need.
The Michelin star chef, over the last two and a half months, with support from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Mumbai-based communication firm Maximus Collabs, has distributed over nine million meals across 125 cities including Varanasi, Bengaluru, Mangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai.
Khanna's next food drive 'Barkat' in Delhi-NCR on Wednesday, is set to be the largest in the world, with the distribution of two million meals in a single day.
This drive, however, will particularly be directed at vulnerable communities like the differently-abled, transgenders, and sex-workers.
"I am humbled to work on an event tirelessly that supports people with disabilities, transgenders, sex-workers, AIDS patients, orphanages, old-age homes and leprosy centres.
"We will also be reaching out to abandoned parents' homes. I am unable to comprehend how people can abandon their parents," the chef said.
As part of the initiative, over 10,000 bags, containing ration worth 200 meals each, will be distributed across different parts of Delhi-NCR by the NDRF.
While activists like Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, Aryan Pasha, as well as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation have identified over 4,500 transgenders, sex workers, and AIDS patients in need, institutions like The Earth Saviour (old age home), Arya Orphanage, and Amar Jyoti Charitable Home (disability centre) will help the drive reach other vulnerable communities.
"This entire operation has made me feel happier than the time I received the Michelin star. Compared to this satisfaction, the Michelin star is nothing," he said.
It wasn't, however, a smooth ride till here.
A little while into the first phase of food distribution, Khanna said a ration delivery truck in Bengaluru took off without any contact, and in another incident a shop owner took double the money and blocked the chef.
"That broke me," he said.
But, all it took was a quick call to his mother in Amritsar, for him to recover and get back on track.
"I was at my wit's end when I called my mother, who is in Amritsar. And she said, 'You are my 'fauji' (soldier) beta. I haven't raised you to give up.
"You owe it to the people to carry on and remember that you are not doing anyone any favour. Stand up for the nation, it's your duty'," he said, adding that he and his team have been working relentlessly since then.
Khanna also collaborated with the CRPF and NDRF in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively to distribute packets of cooked food (5 poori sabji, achaar, 2 bananas and a water bottle) on the Shramik trains.
The world renowned chef, however, added that a food drive of such a large scale was possible only because of the overwhelming support he received from corporates as well as individuals, who helped turn his one man initiative into a community driven endeavour.
Among corporates who contributed towards the drive were India Gate Food, Patanjali, Jivana Salt, and Daawat rice.
"Over time through social media, more and more hands joined in and we planned upon the world's largest food drive.
"The magnitude of solidarity being expressed by people from all over the country has been crazy. Rations are coming in from Coonoor, Kutch, Indore, Mumbai and more," he said.