Hemant Patel has personally witnessed what hunger can do to people — not once but twice. The first time was when his own daughter was sick and he had no money to feed her. And the second time was after the 2002 riots in Gujarat when he saw hundreds of people sitting outside a hospital with no food. In the 13 years since then, Hemant has been going regularly to government hospitals and slums to provide meals to the poor. This is his story.
“I know what hunger is,” says Hemant, with deep sorrow. He remembers the time when his daughter fell ill and was admitted to VS Government Hospital, Ahmedabad. She asked Hemant to get her some food from outside because she could not stomach the hospital food.
But Hemant did not even have Rs. 10 in his pocket since he had been recently sacked from his job from a travel company. With tears in his eyes he kept thinking of ways to feed his hungry daughter. He looked at other people around him — there were several other relatives of hospital patients who did not have enough money to buy food.
“I felt helpless. But there was nothing I could do at that time,” he says.
Luckily, his daughter soon recovered and came back home. But the incident stayed with Hemant.
Hemant started his own catering business after that and moved on with his life. But again, in 2002, he was reminded of what had happened to his daughter when he went to visit a friend in the hospital. Ahmedabad’s streets were burning after the riots that had taken place, and thousands of wounded people were admitted to the hospital. One of them was Hemant’s friend.
“When I reached the hospital, I saw hundreds of people sitting outside with no food and money. It brought back memories of the time when my daughter was in hospital and I had no money to feed her. Their plight touched my heart and I decided to deliver food to the patients’ families,” says Hemant.
Since then, Hemant has been going to VS Hospital everyday to deliver healthy meals cooked with his own hands. Hemant prepares meals that include rice, daal and roti for about 250-300 people in the hospital. On special occasions and festivals, he adds a sweet too.
The patients and their relatives eagerly wait for him everyday. Hemant starts preparing the food at 4 pm. Everything is ready in two hours and Hemant leaves home at 6:30 pm to deliver the delicious and healthy meals at the hospital.
Hemant’s kindness has won people’s hearts at the hospital. Whenever a new patient is admitted, nurses rush to his/her relatives to tell them about Hemant’s food service.
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Some years ago, Hemant also started visiting slums in Ahmedabad where he would feed about 150 needy families during each trip.
“The meals may not be very fancy but they are healthy and made with love,” he says.
Hemant has managed to do what he can so far without any big donor backing him. He uses his own resources, money from his catering business, and donations from friends and family, to do his work. The cost of maintaining his free service comes to about Rs. 60,000 a month.
“God has given me strength to do this. I don’t have any staff and no major financial support as such. I do get some donations but I also use my personal money to buy ingredients, prepare the meals and deliver them,” he says.
Although this extraordinary man has managed to serve food to the needy for over a decade now, he has constantly faced challenges to arrange funds to support his mission.
“I need regular funding to prepare the food. I can’t skip going to the hospital even for a single day since people wait for me there. Also, finding people who can volunteer their time to help cook and deliver food with me is a challenge,” he says.
At 58, Hemant now feels he needs help to cook meals for over 300 people every day. He wants to reach out to more people but age is not on his side.
“I am getting old. My health does not allow me to work so much. I need more people to help me in this cause,” he says.
Hemant would like to get government aid for his work. But until that happens, this brave and kind man will soldier on without any help because he is dedicated to the cause of feeding the poor and needy.