If you’re at the Madurai Government Hospital around 12.30 in the afternoon, you can see a long line of people - queued up not to get medicines or treatment, but food from the volunteers of NGO, Palakarangal.
The Madurai NGO serves fresh and hot sambar saadam, curd rice, or whatever is the day’s special, to the people at the GH, as part of ‘Pasi Illa Madurai’- a joint initiative by the Madurai Corporation and Palakarangal.
Inspired by a Malayalam movie ‘Ustad Hotel’, the initiative has been serving food to over 550 people a day, for the last three months.
How it started
It all started a few months ago, when the then trainee collector, Vishnu Chandran, watched ‘Ustab Hotel’, and decided to replicate the food distribution depicted in the film.
“The movie shows a man who came to Madurai and provided free food to the needy, so when I came to Madurai, this idea struck me. The then Corporation Commissioner, Sandeep sir and I, spoke to hotels and asked them if they would like to sponsor food once a week, or may be once a month,” says Vishnu Chandran, who is now an Assistant Secretary in the Department of Food and Distribution.
“We decided to start this first at a hospital, because there are so many people there who need food,” Vishnu says.
Once they decided on a spot, the bureaucrats decided to bring in the NGO, Palakarangal, to set things in motion.
Over 550 food packets a day
Every day, around 9,000 to 10,000 people walk into the Madurai GH, says Alima Banu Sikkandhar, founder of Palakarangal NGO.
“Every department has 15 to 20 patients admitted, and they have to stay there for about 15 to 20 days, depending on the treatment. There are three canteens and one Amma Unnavagam, but that is not enough food for all these people. According to our survey, 960 people are in need of food everyday,” says Alima.
The food distribution started on April 29, 2017.
Image Courtesy: Pasi Illa Madurai/ Facebook.com
“We came to know that people were saving their lunch to then eat it at dinner, or even for breakfast the next morning. When we started, about 500 packets of food were distributed, but now, about 550 to 600 packets of food are distributed everyday,” adds Alima.
When the founders of ‘Pasi Illa Madurai’ were planning the initiative, they came across Meenakshi Caterers, a company that was already providing about 150 packets of food in Madurai GH since January. “We asked them if they could provide more packets of food, and they agreed to provide food for the next one year,” says Alima.
Palakarangal sends 8 to 10 volunteers every day to the GH to serve food to patients’ families and friends.
“Once Meenakshi caterers informs us that the food has left their kitchen, we also leave leave our office to go help them out,” says Alima.
The food is provided from 12.30pm to 2pm and Meenakshi caterers makes sure that different variety of food is provided from Sambar rice, curd rice to vegetable biriyani, adds Alima.
How you can help
Ramakrishnan, owner of Meenakshi caterers, says he started providing food at the hospital because whenever he crossed the hospital, he found people who were hungry. “There are people who come here with just enough money for two days, but their stay gets extended and they do not have money to eat food. That is when I decided to provide them with at least one meal a day,” says Ramakrishnan.
How does it work? “The corporation has tied up with Airtel and PayTM so the hotels can ask people to use this number - 9994260606 - and donate a minimum Rs 50 to the initiative. This money goes to the corporation, and this can be used for the scheme,” says Alima.
Vishnu says that they have tagged this initiative with the smart city project in Madurai. “Other than in Chennai, people in Tamil Nadu don’t use digital payments as much. So, through this, we are also trying to promote digital payment. Many hotels have agreed to be part of it,” says Vishnu.
However, people who do not have smartphones will also be able to contribute to this initiative soon. “Airtel will be giving out coupons, so by using those numbers, people can pay through their prepaid balance,” says Alima.
Image Courtesy: Pasi Illa Madurai/ Facebook.com
The next step
“Many people ask us if we are making people lazy by this initiative... I believe a person must first have the stamina to get up and walk, which can only come from food. Then, we can help them find a job and help them find a place to live,” says Alima.
The corporation and Palakarangal have also been planning to extend the initiative to Mattuthavani bus stand, Madurai railway station and a few other places. “Once more hotels start sponsoring food or more money comes through the recharge scheme, we will be providing food at the bus stand and Madurai government hospital,” says Alima.
For that, they are also planning to conduct campaigns in the city. “With the help of corporation commissioner Aneesh Shekhar, we will be putting up flexes and boards about this initiative at restaurants and different parts of the city. We will also conduct activities in colleges and corporate companies to make them aware of this social cause,” says Alima.
To contribute to this initiative, download Paytm or Airtel app and recharge Rs 50 or more on this number: 9994260606