Project Food Drive – Students supporting students

15 September 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up, businesses all around the nation began to close their doors. Students lost their jobs or started getting fewer hours, and the effects were immediate. Paying rent and buying groceries was suddenly a real challenge, as the need for support surged. 

The President of the ANU Indian Students Association (InSA), Shahnawaz Mirza, recalls receiving countless texts and calls from students who needed urgent assistance with grocery bills. He quickly set up a Google form, available via the InSA Facebook page to understand the demand. The response was overwhelming. 

"This made me think about what I can do to help the student community, which can help to give them immediate relief", Shahnawaz said. 

"I decided to look for help from the Canberran community. I gave interviews on two of Canberra's prominent radio channels to seek help and in response, the Indian diaspora in Canberra offered their help with open arms." The Federation of Indian Association of ACT (FINACT) offered to donate bulk supplies, including rice, lentils, tomatoes and onions, for the InSA team to divide and deliver. 

From this, Shahnawaz and with his InSA team created their project, 'Food Drive'. "Free food for any student who needed it, not just InSA members." 

He formed a group of volunteers who had offered to help, and together they established a supply chain to get food to students. His car became a delivery van, and they bore the expenses - no money from the InSA budget was used. They didn't have a shared space to store the supplies and we're able to come together during COVID-19 restrictions, so Shahnawaz moved all the supplies into his room on campus in Gowrie Hall. 

The first load of supplies was 150 kilograms, and they divided it into 50 grocery bags for students in need. They reached out to the students for feedback, who were appreciative but indicated that it just wasn't enough. So, they increased supply, adding two pick-up points on campus, in addition to socially distanced deliveries. 

Weekly grocery bag


Initial supply  

Increased supply


750 grams

1 kilogram


250 grams

500 grams


250 grams

500 grams


2 to 3 

4 to 5


2 to 3 

400 grams

More feedback started coming through from students - "we don't know how to cook!" 

Once again, the team reached out for more help. Turbans4Australia offered to donate cooked meals, but they didn't have the resources to distribute them. Shahnawaz asked some students to sample ten of the cooked meals to review the quality, and they were very well received. Food Drive then started to provide cooked meals too. 

By this point, the team started to get very busy. They introduced set collection times and locations on campus for grocery bags and meals - so that they could stay on top of their studies! 

To prevent waste, they relied on people telling them that they wanted food and how much they needed. 

The team stopped distributing cooked meals when shops and eateries opened up, but they are continuing to provide grocery bags until they run out of supplies. 

To date, Shahnawaz and his Food Drive team have delivered 950 cooked meals and more than 500 kilograms of dry supplies to students in need.