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How Sonal Fozdar Devised A System To Have Essentials Reach All Residents At Raheja Willows

Posted: April 22, 2020

When Raheja Willows decided to barricade its residents in even before lockdown, Sonal Fozdar came up with a brilliant way of getting essentials to them.

The lady of the house is considered its backbone – the gruhlaxmi, as we say. I wonder what you would call a woman who is the backbone of a whole housing society? Is there even a term for such a selfless soul?

I don’t think anyone thought that ahead and coined a term. So, let me just say that I would call such a woman ‘An Inspiration’. And why I say this is because all heroes in our lives do not come caped. Some of them come clothed in six yards. And yet, are they any less a hero than the caped crusaders? No, I don’t think so.

The Corona scare has closeted us. Yes, literally closeted. We are scared to venture out. Heck, we are even scared to open our main doors. And yet, in all this, I am proud to be a part of a housing society that is looking after its own. And, the woman leading the effort is Sonal Fozdar – our very own guardian angel.

So, who is Sonal Fozdar?

Well, like me, Sonal Fozdar is a resident of Raheja Willows albeit one with a selfless drive to serve others. She is a B.com graduate who possesses an additional certification in ECCED and has worked as a mentor with Podar Institute of Education for close to 12 years. Her husband is a CFO with an energy major in Mumbai. Her daughter is pursuing class XII and her son is studying Engineering at IIT.

Sonal Fozdar this hails from what we would call a typical small and loving upper middle class, educated family, like most of us.

I see her at all odd and even hours of the day and even night, running around the society. She is available to us all 24×7 on the phone. She patiently listens to our concerns and helps. No questions asked! You need help – you get it. Period! That is just who she is.

We are a small housing society called Raheja Willows in Lokhandwala, Mumbai. We have just three towers of 21 floors each (approximately 250 odd flats) with a single entry and exit point. And, we have been under a self imposed total lock down for over a month! Yes, month and counting.

Even before our honourable Prime Minister took to the media to announce the lockdown, the management committee of our housing society had swung into action. Before his pronouncement, we had already caged ourselves inside the society gates, living a barricaded existence, cut off from the rest of the locality. And, we did this willingly, to save ourselves and our loved ones.

What does it mean to be barricaded?

It means that we, in the society, are operating on a skeletal support staff. This includes security and housekeeping staff. Yes, just those alone! For more than a month now, no additional support staffs have been allowed to enter our building. So, housemaids, drivers, cooks, dog walkers or delivery people are all not allowed entry. Residents have been managing sans this support and they have been coping admirably.

However, the staff who are working, well, these are the people without whom it would not be possible for the society to function so their wellbeing is our responsibility.

Now, how do we do it?

Simple, Sonal Fozdar has mobilized the society women into providing meals for these people. Wonderful, isn’t it?

A WhatsApp group has been created by her with the sole purpose of allocating cooking responsibilities. Women from all three towers have been enlisted (strictly on a volunteer basis) to cook lunch and dinner for the staff. Every day, the responsibility falls on the volunteers of one tower. A WhatsApp message is posted on the group, a night before, detailing who will cook the sabzi and which women have to provide the chapattis.

This ensures two things – a) the staff does not go hungry and b) the load is shared equitably by all volunteers.

So well has this initiate taken off that we now have ladies volunteering to provide meals for the entire staff in lieu of their children’s birthdays. Tell me; is that not a fantastic way to celebrate?

Thanks to these barricading efforts, as of now, we have proudly held the Corona infection at bay even though other buildings in the locality have succumbed.

How did we do it?

Yes, that is the million dollar question, is it not?

Well, how we did it is with Sonal leading us from the front. She noticed that multiple vendors were entering the society to supply home delivery orders for grocery, medicines and other things.

So, as a first step, these vendors were stopped at the main gate itself. Residents were called down to pick up their orders from the main gate. A washbasin was installed overnight near the main gate and bottled soap and sanitizer was provided. Residents collecting the orders were requested to politely wash their hands before they entered the tower lobbies or lifts.

But, this did not stop the residents from venturing out to the market to purchase their own supplies. Sadly, this meant that they increased the risk for others when they re-entered the society and used the lifts. So, how could this be curbed? How could the society ensure that these people could be checked without hurting their inflated egos?

Hmm…mammoth task indeed and one that seemed impossible till Sonal hit upon the perfect solution.

What Sonal Fozdar did

On the Society WhatsApp group, Sonal called for a few volunteers from each tower. The idea was to create teams of people who could run administration for the many other whatsapp groups that were subsequently created.

As the first call of order, the volunteers called up every single flat in their tower (yes, every single one) and ascertained two pertinent details – 1) travel history of the occupant and 2) WhatsApp number of any one family member.

Arming herself with these two details, Sonal created separate WhatsApp groups for

  1. Grocery
  2. Medicines
  3. Non-veg grocery
  4. Help to Senior citizens

A person from each household was added to the medicine and grocery group. People desirous of procuring non-veg items were added to the non-veg grocery group too.

But, that was the easy part. The hard part was for Sonal to then call up grocers, chemists and other vendors in Lokhandwala and ask them to supply to Raheja Willows in bulk. That was easier said than done! Some vendors picked up her calls, others promised to get back while still some others politely refused.

Undeterred, Sonal Fozdar visited the larger grocery stores in Lokhandwala and convinced vendors to be a part of our WhatsApp group. That is how Raheja Willows initiated regular supply of items.

The system faced a few hiccups and also quite a few obstacles from some residents. But, it is now streamlined.

So, how is it done?

Each tower is allowed one day a week to put up their detailed orders (in a particular format) on the respective WhatsApp group. A time limit is set to post the orders.

Once everyone has posted their orders, the vendor takes note. The orders are then collated by the vendor. He arranges for supplies from the distributor and then intimates the respective person via WhatsApp or phone call about the payment due. Sometimes, it is our volunteers Sonal and Shalini who send us individual itemised bills via WhatsApp, or they call us up.

The residents, on receipt of the bill then pay the vendor via pre-approved digital mode and send in a snapshot of the payment receipt.

The next day, the order is delivered for the entire tower. A point to note here is that the order still comes only till the main gate of the building. The security desk calls up each resident via intercom and also a message is put up in the WhatsApp group asking people to come and collect their supplies.

Ensuring our health and convenience

This ensures that we minimize the risk of exposure not only for our residents but also for the poor delivery person. He no longer needs to make multiple visits to our society to deliver orders. He just needs to come once a day with all collated orders.

The above is just an example of how a thought can blossom into an idea and how that idea can change the framework of a housing society for the better.

And, this is not the only initiative. We follow a similar system of ordering medicines and other sundry supplies on a daily basis.

What happens if you need an emergency supply?

Again, Sonal and her team of volunteers come to the rescue. We message the requirement to Sonal who arranges to get it processed in an expedient manner. At times, she even steps out of the society to personally get emergency supplies for residents. In fact, she and Shalini personally pick up the orders from the grocers at times in their car and get it to us.

So, is it not a threat to her life or to Shalini’s? Of course, it is. They are as much at threat as any other resident but remember, I used that word ‘selfless’?

Well, take this as just one small example.

Other initiatives undertaken

Apart from the above there are a few other initiatives that have been taken.

Raheja already had a vegetable and fruit vendor who has a permanent space in the society.  Only now, that we are solely dependent on him, the vendor has increased his procurement and now supplies all the flats with fresh vegetables and fruits. We do not lack for anything! The man goes to the sabzi mandi as early as 2-3 am to procure the freshest produce and his stall (in the society) is set up as early as 7 am.

Earlier there were multiple vendors supplying milk to the residents. That all has been stopped. Only one vendor is allowed entry and he is available at a pre-allocated spot for an hour each morning. Door step delivery of milk is no longer allowed. All residents desirous of procuring milk need to don masks and go down to the podium level to get supplies.

Yes, masks are compulsory, even though we do not have any cases of infection in our society. Anyone, stepping down for supplies needs to wear a mask even though our premises, lifts, common areas and even floor lobbies are sanitized twice on a daily basis.

And, that is not all. The pandemic has seen many selfless souls step forth to help the society. We now have a mini shopping mart within the society, thanks to the efforts of a concerned resident.

The common room in our society club house has been turned into a mini shopping mart with sundry essentials like tetra packs of milk, bisleri refills, atta, pulses, sugar, milk tetra packs, essential for babies, condiments, spices, confectionary items etc and other sundry daily items being available. A resident can just walk into the club house (which is open 24×7) and can purchase the items from there against cash/digital payment.

This initiative was the brain child of a gentleman in Raheja. The gentleman arranges for bulk supplies from various places. Once or twice a week, a tempo comes to replenish the stock. The stock is arranged in the club house and detailed lists with discounted prices are tacked up on the notice board. The lists of items with rates are also shared on WhatsApp. Residents can queue up outside the club house (yes, we maintain social distancing there too) and procure whatever they want. A box has been provided to drop exact change in (if a resident wishes to pay cash), else a paytm number has been provided. Residents add up the purchases and deposit the payment. It’s a rather simple and yet extremely effective method which also ensures that no additional staff needs to be deployed to manage the store.

Since newspapers could be a major source of infection so delivery has been stopped in Mumbai. However, we get digital copies of multiple newspapers on the Society whatsapp group every morning, thanks to another resident. So, we enjoy reading the morning news along with our morning cuppas. Fantastic, isn’t it?

The months of April and May are the ones that Mumbaikars spend satiating their souls on Alphonso mangoes and succulent Nasik grapes. However, since most of this produce comes from outside of Mumbai and since transport network is affected due to the lockdown, we were missing these delicacies.

Well, not any more. A gentleman from the society has arranged for organic farm produce to be delivered to our society in bulk. We have a separate whatsapp group for ordering mangoes and grapes, straight from the farms. So, instead of being deprived, we are gorging on these.

And, that is not all!

Since we are not allowed to step out of the society, some of us were a little cash strapped. We could not venture out to withdraw cash from the ATM’s. That is when another gentleman came to the rescue. This bank employee arranged for a mobile ATM van to be present in the society. Thanks to him, we got to withdraw the cash we needed for daily expenses.

The list of self-less souls is endless.

So, what do we learn from all this?

As a resident of this wonderful society that is redefining the ‘New Normal’, I am a proud of the path breaking efforts that have been initiated. Sonal’s efforts symbolize that a unified approach can indeed go a long way in battling this nightmare of Covid-19. She has not only led by example but has also unified the residents into following in her selfless footsteps.

Today, although Raheja Willows was the first society to initiate these formats in Lokhandwala, others have followed suit.

Now tell me, is that not the epitome of inspiration?

Image source: Sonal Fozdar

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Sonal believes that life is a repertoire of anecdotes strung together in a colourful array,

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