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The alarming humanitarian crisis India faces in its battle against COVID-19 isn't going unnoticed by those in the food industry worldwide.
1 Billion Breaths, a campaign organized by New York City restaurateur Basu Ratnam of INDAY Restaurants, is bringing around 30 Indian restaurants worldwide together to raise awareness and direct funds to supply India with more oxygen. In the GTA, the restaurants participating in this campaign are Haldi, Curryish and The Host at both their locations, joined by two of its other businesses, Mantra and Bhai's Indian Canteen.
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in India, with an estimated 1 million lives lost come August, basic necessities and resources like oxygen are depleting. The goal is to collect $250,000 and participating restaurants have varying menus and days between this past Sunday, May 23 to May 29, where they're dedicating proceeds from their meals to Oxygen for India and Give India Oxygen.
Ratnam says an article in The New York Times discussing the Indian government having to airlift oxygen tanks into the country on fighter jets motivated him to do what he could to make a difference. Turning to what he knows best for support -- the restaurant industry -- Ratnam made around 30 phone calls and received 30 positive responses from his small personal network of first- and second-generation Indian restaurateurs.
"I couldn't be the only one feeling this sense of guilt," Ratnam says regarding watching the impact COVID is having on India, "and to my surprise, everyone jumped on board because they wanted to do something bigger than ourselves."
Ratnam notes that despite many of the restaurants being on the heel of COVID themselves a year ago and still being affected up until today, he's very grateful for the outpour of support in collectively contributing to financial aid overseas.
"We're trying to get money as fast over there as possible; we spent a lot of time getting non-profit partners and making sure that we're partnering with people that are focusing on oxygen regeneration and distribution of oxygen to rural sites," Ratnam emphasizes, "100 per cent of the money we're raising is going directly to the cause there's no middle man, there's no organizational overhead, we're funding efforts directly on the ground so it's immediate and it's impactful."
Here in Toronto, Haldi by chef Harish Prabhu is participating. Both yesterday and today, Wednesday, May 26, they're donating 15 per cent of total sales to 1 Billion Breaths. You can order here.
"I was born and raised in Mumbai, India, for 21 years. Our cooking style at Haldi is inspired from Mumbai as well," Prabhu reflects, "I remember growing up running around the streets of Mumbai as a child! Playing catch, biking and zooming across the by lanes. Greeted by genuine smiles, smells of delectable food and warm hugs. Even though I have moved from my motherland, it pains me to see my friends and family around the country gasping for breath, ailing and fighting to survive. We have chosen to do our part by joining hands with 1 Billion Breaths. Help us help India breathe."
Through donating the entirety of their sales in celebration of their one year anniversary just two weeks ago, Curryish is back again, fighting to make as big of an impact as they can. Chef Miheer Shete is again donating 100 per cent of proceeds from his offering this week, with today being the last day to order for Saturday delivery.
"[Basu Ratnam] was getting in touch with few selected restaurants all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Gulf of Mexico and Peru to come together and do a collective fundraiser to make a bigger impact." Shete says, "Honestly, I have never seen anything like this where so many restaurants worldwide are coming together involved in something so big. This shows how resilient the hospitality industry is," he states, "Restaurants have suffered so much, but our industry has such a big heart," adding, "To be standing alongside with some of the top Indian restaurants [is] such an honour."
The Host Fine Indian Cuisine, along with two of their other restaurants Mantra and Bhai's Indian Canteen, is donating 100 per cent of the proceeds from a limited edition 3 course meal box this week to 1 Billion Breaths. Pick-up and delivery options as well as menu features can be found on their websites.
The Host was founded by late chef Sanjeev Sethi and his brother Jay Sethi in 1995, the restaurant group notes that they started where many entrepreneurs do, with a vision and no more than a little bit of pocket change. However, their business has since expanded to be The Host Hospitality Group which has five locations and many accolades. The Host continues to grow every day, but they continue to tribute their original visionary, shown through the creation of the Sanjeev Sethi Foundation, which helps charity causes each month alongside the Sanjeev Masala Company, where a portion of sales is donated to the charity of choice.
Chef Ashish Sethi, son of the late chef Sanjeev Sethi, is the head chef of Mantra and, regarding participating in 1 Billion Breaths, in particular, says, "Our family in India was directly affected by this situation. Sitting here in Canada we felt helpless and wanted to figure out what we could do and how we could help, that would truly make an impact there. Our family had already made a donation but we wanted to do more."
With charitable work held as an integral part of the hospitality group, the opportunity to get involved in the campaign and help in anyway they could was vital to chef Sethi.
"We felt that if there was anything we could do to help our motherland, this would be it. My dad always held charitable work as a mission to his life, and his attachment to India was very real. With his ideology also in mind, we had a feeling this is what he would do if he was still with us," said Sethi.
This week, starting in the United States and Canada, followed by a second week in the United Kingdom, 1 Billion Breaths hopes to bring the community together to support people suffering across India.
As mentioned, in the GTA, the restaurants participating in this campaign are Haldi, Curryish and The Host at both its locations, joined by two of its other businesses Mantra and Bhai's Indian Canteen.
If you cannot order a meal from the participating restaurants, you can still donate to the cause via their GoFundMe campaign. Again, 100 per cent of proceeds collected by 1 Billion Breaths is being donated towards Oxygen for India and Give India Oxygen. This inclusive event encourages customers to support their local Indian restaurants. In addition, if any other Indian restaurants are wishing to participate, please contact 1 Billion Breaths by email.