Arnav Rathore is not your ordinary schoolboy—fully immersed in sport, friends, studies, social media and television—amidst this extraordinary lockdown. After reading that senior citizens were the most inconvenienced by the suddenness of the decision, Arnav responded to an inner calling. Through his friends and the police contacts of his ADGP father he compiled a list of needy senior citizens in the Mylapore and RA Puram area of Chennai. He also shot a small video and circulated a Whatsapp message, asking about any senior citizen who needed basic provisions. Drawing inspiration from his mother Shilpam Rathore’s Aranya Foundation, which has been feeding the poor in Delhi and Chennai for nearly five years, he put together a food bag with enough rice, dal, spices, cooking oil, salt and milk powder to last for seven days for two people.
“The wholesale dealer who supplies my mother’s project was happy to supply me. Each food bag cost Rs 350; initially my friends and I paid for them before crowd funding took over,” Arnav recalls. When he started on March 26, Arnav had three friends to help. As word got around, he had a team of 25 volunteers. The class 11 student had online classes in the afternoon, so he would finish his run in the morning while his friends took over later in the day. The number of beneficiaries also doubled to 400 as Mylapore MLA R. Nataraj sent a list of senior citizens. “We would take the supplies in our cars for distribution after getting vehicle passes from the local police,” Arnav (17) explains. The volunteers are sticklers for precautions—use of sanitizers, gloves and masks are rigorously followed; no more than three would travel in a car. Arnav and his friends also distribute fruit juice packets to policemen on duty in Chennai and Coimbatore. “Their job is very crucial, we wanted to acknowledge the tireless work of men in uniform,” Arnav says. “When an elderly couple asked me if they could bless me by touching my head I told them that their very thought would suffice, he recalls. He and his friends would be counting innumerable blessings in the days ahead.