MDX Redbeat

Food ATM: Meal Banks for Labourers

An initiative that lightens the load for low-income workers with food

Across the country, low-income employees are worrying about what we often take for granted: our next meal. By carefully apportioning their salaries, only a small percentage is spent on necessities, while the rest is saved for their families back home.

Food ATM, a startup company based in Ajman is trying to solve this problem. With their new initiative, they are offering to help the less privileged with free meals. So how does it work?

Farhanul Haque, a member of Food ATM’s Corporate Business Support team, explains: “We approach a company and we sign a contract to distribute special smart cards with RFID technology to underpaid employees. The company then gives us a specific schedule of when to come in and deliver these meals.  Our delivery boys each have a card reader that scans an employee’s card before handing them a free packed meal.”

Since its launch in March 2019, Food ATM has partnered with 50 companies, catering to a total of 300 employees. With a capacity of 1000, they’re looking to expand and provide more meals.

The startup company cooks, packs and serves all the meals from their restaurant. Their packaged boxes reach Ajman, Sharjah and Dubai. Soon, they are looking to set up a facility in Dubai, to reach more people and provide more smart cards filled with free meals. Each Food ATM card can store up to 90 meals. That’s three meals a day, for 30 days and it could make all the difference for a struggling labourer.

Haque clarifies: “Companies pay for the meals in the cards. For three meals, it only costs AED 11.66. This way the company shouldn’t hesitate to spend on their employees.”

Abdullah Sajid Khan, who is also part of the initiative’s Corporate Business Support team adds: “We’re doing this so the labourers can save their money. They often receive low salaries and are forced to spend a lot to survive.” The Animation student from SAE shares: When they’re offered a smart card, they know that their next meal is free and ready. And when employees feel like they are being taken care of, the companies can count on greater productivity and better morale.”

Currently, items on the menu include milkshakes, paav bhaaji, chicken korma, mutton kadai, and more. The most expensive plate of food advertised costs AED 25.

Ayesha Sajjid Khan, the woman behind the idea and the founder of Food ATM, buys raw ingredients in bulk. In this way, costs are kept low and the startup can afford to stick to cheap retail prices for the meals they pack.

“In truth I wasn’t doing anything for corporate social responsibility or the United Nations before this,” she confesses. “In 2016, when I was working with the Dubai Government, I loved to cook and serve. My family was bored of me and I wanted new taste-testers for my recipes. So, I decided to take my meals to the office and ask the janitors and cleaners to enjoy some. I cooked proper meals, from biryani to mutton curry and chicken curry. So, it was filling for them!”

A few months after she started, a Bangladeshi cleaner approached Ayesha and shared how he would often eat her meals for both, lunch and dinner. Thereby saving money for his children who have, since, quit work and joined school. Ayesha recalls, “More than anything else, that moment filled me with guilt because I wasn’t doing it for them. I was only trying out my skills on them.”

After speaking to the other employees in her office, Ayesha found out that some are single mothers, some have parents with serious medical conditions, one wants to get his sister married and one wants to see his brother graduate. Though she was already serving 100 people, she wanted to do more.

“Even though it is cheap enough for labourers to afford it, we are asking corporations to do so. So, mothers can take care of their kids, parents can get medication and so sisters and brothers can graduate and even get married.”

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  • Steve
    January 8, 2020

    Some much needed positive news for 2020. Great story Mahesh!

    • Elena
      January 8, 2020

      I agree!

  • Hamzah
    January 8, 2020

    I always saw that as a prevailing problem, the wages are so low for most of the intensive logout work that it leaves most employees with one option; save everything. I often wondered if there was a solution other than raising their salaries, it’s great to know someone is actually doing something about it.

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