To serve with love: This Kochi auto-rickshaw driver feeds hundreds every day

Judeson runs 25 ootusalas, where hundreds of poor get at least one square meal a day.
To serve with love: This Kochi auto-rickshaw driver feeds hundreds every day
To serve with love: This Kochi auto-rickshaw driver feeds hundreds every day
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“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

A day with 53-year-old Judeson from Edakochi in Ernakulam district proves just how true Gandhi was when he uttered those words.

A ride through Kochi on Judeson’s auto-rikshaw reveals the grim side of the city. As his black auto weaves through various neighbourhoods in the city, several elderly people run towards the three-wheeler, waving it down.

For many of these homeless senior citizens, Judeson’s auto represents the one square meal they get every day.

As the elderly queue to receive their food packets – rice and a curry on most days – the auto-rickshaw driver explains that he feeds at least 1500 people a day. He begins every morning by collecting food packets from restaurants, houses and educational institutions. He then proceeds on his distribution drives to feed the hungry.

But that’s not all. Judeson also runs 25 ootusalas (charity homes that serve food) in Kochi, where hundreds of poor get a meal.

Judeson collecting food packets from houses

The beginning of a lifelong mission

It all began 35 years ago when he was working as an ambulance driver at a leprosy hospital in Kochi.  

“One day I saw a man, who was a patient at the leprosy hospital crying out of hunger. He was cured but people shooed him away as he had once been a leprosy patient. I bought him food and from the next day onwards, many more came forward asking to be fed,” Judeson recalls. From that day forward, he began spending a portion of his work on feeding the poor and needy.

His work of charity didn’t start easy though. Judeson would visit hotel after hotel, drive to restaurants and housing colonies, meet with those from the church and educational institutions and beg them to donate a few packets of food, which he could distribute.  Some agreed to help, while many others refused.

As he continued to distribute food packets over the years, it struck him one day that this was his calling, he says.  

“I realised that this is my way to live and I decided to dedicate my life for this. In 1997 I started my first oottusala,” smiles Judeson.

On the first day, around 50 people came to his Thoppumpady oottusala. He was shocked to find out just how many people were starving in the neighbourhood. Many were poor but their pride, he says, didn’t allow them to beg on the street.

“Most of them were over 70 years old. Whatever we give, they eat with lot of happiness. They don’t have any preferences or demands. Anything that can fill their stomach,” he notes.

As the years rolled by, Judeson extended his ootusalas with now 25 operating from different parts of Kochi. Each ootusala has a few volunteers, mostly housewives in the locality, who prepare and serve food.  While most food shelters serve lunch to between 50 and 100 people a day, a couple of oottusalas provide dinner as well.

 “I come here around 11 am. I spend some time with people who come here, have lunch, take some food for my grandchildren and go back home. My son is not well and is unable to work,” says 78-year-old Philomina.

80-year-old Fathima, who has been visiting the Fort Kochi oottusala for the last five years is extremely grateful to Judeson for giving her lunch and dinner. “I live alone and at this age I am unable to work. I can’t go to the street and beg. I will be thankful to him till I die,” she says.

Sivan, who was working as a driver, migrated from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi. An accident left him with physical disabilities as he spent years receiving treatment in a hospital. Now he sleeps on the veranda of a shop in Thoppumpady. “I get a packet of lunch and breakfast every day from Judeson. I wait for his auto to appear every day. I have no home or relatives,” he explains.

For all those he helps, this auto-rickshaw driver from Edakochi is next to god, appearing in the form of bread.

Judeson has named his oottusalas ‘Sehiyon’, the mountain where Jesus Christ prayed. “I still can’t understand how I am able to run them. Just god’s grace is the reason. Sometimes people offer donations, and on sponsored days we will cook non-vegetarian dishes while on other days we cook vegetarian food,” he observes.

So, what does a day in Judeson’s life look like?

The auto-rickshaw driver begins his day at 6am delivering breakfast to patients at a government hospital. Post 10amonwards, he begins his food collection, picking up leftover food packets from various places.

In an hour-and-a-half, Judeson’s auto-rickshaw is full of food packets. He stops every time a man waves him down for food. By 3:30pm, Judeson’s auto is empty, with all the packets distributed.

A heart of gold

Judeson lives in a two-bedroom rented house after selling his property to renovate an oottusala. He has two auto-rickshaws, one having been gifted to him by rotary club.

“These are my savings. Since I live in an old house, due to the dust, my wife’s asthma get worse. So, my only wish is to have a small but nice home and renovate the oottusala near Edakochi,” he says.

Judeson confesses, “If you ask me now, I don’t have a single paisa to spend tomorrow, but with god’s grace I would get money from somewhere and I will be able to buy things to cook.”

With most of his day going in food collection and distribution, Judeson gets very little time to run his auto for hire.

“I can’t even rest a day because hundreds of people are waiting for my food daily. But with god’s grace each day goes peacefully,” he sighs.

Edited by Anna Isaac

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