KARACHI: Not all banks deal solely in monetary transactions. In Karachi, there is a bank that accepts deposits and passes them on to people free of charge. The Roti Bank provides two free meals a day to the city's underprivileged.
The small red shop, which appears to sell prepared food items, is situated on the road leading to Guru Mandir from Numaish and is an initiative of Roti Bank. It offers free food to those low income and needy people who cannot make ends meet.
Inside the red shop workers are busy packing food items which the bank gets from their kitchen or as donations while another worker hands out food to the hungry.
Muhammad Asif works as a security guard at a private security company and earns Rs12,000 per month. He pays monthly house rent of Rs5,000. According to him, the remainder of his salary is not enough to run his house. "My wife and I used to eat a single meal a day, very rarely could we have two meals a day before we found out about this facility," he said.
These days, he gets meal free of charge. Sometimes he takes food home for his wife and the workers at the bank have never hesitated in providing him food on an almost daily basis for the past 20 days.
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Azra, a mother of seven, was also present at the bank to get her evening food along with her seven-year-old son. She submitted her documents, including her national identity card and her husband's along with the birth certificates of all her children, for which she will be issued a Saylani free food card for the entire month.
"Sometimes, when my husband brings home enough money at the end of the day I don't come to take food in the evening so that other needy people can benefit from the Roti Bank," explained Azra, adding that in times of sky rocketing prices, it is difficult to have two meals a day and the Roti Bank is helping people like them eat.
A single mother of four children who visited the bank said at least Rs300 is required to prepare food for five persons a day, which she cannot afford. Getting food from Roti Bank gives people hope that they will not starve if they cannot make ends meet, she said.
Muhammad Ikram, a worker who packs food to be given to the people who visit the bank, said that sometimes a white collar worker feels guilty about taking the free food but they try to convince them to take it. "We tell them that their families won't be able to recognise [that it has been donated] since there are no marks on the plastic bags to protect their self-respect."
People from as far as Surjani Town, Orangi Town, New Karachi and Korangi come to get food from the Roti Bank, said Ikram, adding that the bank's popularity is due to word of mouth. "They spent Rs50 on bus fare and get free food worth hundreds for their families," he said.
According to the worker, the menu at the bank keeps changing - from biryani, chicken and mutton qorma to keema, vegetables and daal packed in boxes along with naans.
Arif Lakhani, a trustee of the Saylani Welfare Trust and one of the organisers behind the Roti Bank, is happy they were able to come up with an idea that has allowed hundreds of residents of Karachi to be fed.
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According to Lakhani, they play the role of a bank as they keep food provided to them by affluent people and give it back to those in need. It was opened on August 14 this year and the team hopes to open five to six more Roti Banks in different part of Karachi by the middle of 2018 as everyday more people turn up at the bank.
"On a daily basis 700 to 900 meals are provided to people. Around 100 to 150 families have registered and will be issued cards in the coming days through which they can get food for the entire month," he told The Express Tribune.
Lakhani added that the initiative is also helping those who do not want to disclose their identities but still need free food.
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