‘Food Bank, Visakkunnavarkkoru Virunnu (a feast for the hungry)’, reads a hoarding above a counter of food packets. Kept behind metal-glass doors at 12.30 each afternoon, these packets are accessible to all.
The best part? The packet is free!
A set of tables and chairs is also kept in the compound for people who wish to sit and eat.
The food counter outside a house in Iranjilikuda road in Kerala’s Thrissur belongs to Gulf-returned Abdul Khadar and his wife, Sunitha. A staunch supporter of Gandhian philosophy, Khadar started this noble initiative on October 2 last year when he returned from Oman after 38 years.
Knowing what it is like to go days without food, Khadar migrated to Oman in search of a job three decades ago in 1979. Feeding the poor was a trait he learnt from his parents, and wanted to start a food initiative for them after retirement.
“Food is everyone’s right. The needy and poor should not come to us begging. As everyone’s responsibility, we must introduce a mechanism where people can access food for free. As soon as we moved back, we opened the bank,” Khadar tells The Better India.
The 66-year-old continues, “We had space in our verandah, so we installed an enclosed counter that will protect the food from the sun and rains. We have also arranged for a drinking water facility for visitors.”
The food is prepared by Sunitha with the help of their domestic servants. Whatever the family eats is served to the strangers. On most days, the menu is plain rice, gravy and pickle as these are healthiest and easiest meals to prepare.
When Khadar discussed his plans for opening a free food vending machine, many people advised him otherwise, “They said anything could happen with the food if kept in the open, and I could be held accountable. That seemed like a small risk against the fact that numerous people crave for a single grain of rice. Hunger is our worst enemy, it can make you do things you never imagined.”
To ensure that the packets are not misused, Khadar has placed surveillance cameras around the bank, and a domestic help always guards the gate in the afternoon. The real-time camera also helps Sunitha prevent food waste. The first ten packets are kept in the counter at 12.30 p.m., and then based on the requirement of more visitors, the family adds more packets until 1.30 p.m.
He hosts an average of 15 visitors daily, most of whom are homeless people, including children and the elderly. Some curious people also stop by seeing the board and take the packages, but Khadar does not mind.
After leading a hectic life of struggles and challenges, very few people have the strength and patience to dedicate themselves to a social cause post-retirement. Thanks to people like Khadar who are setting an example to humanity and reminding us to do our bit for our fellow humans.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)