The nation-wide lockdown, imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, affected people across India differently. Some took it as a time to learn a new skill, and some experimented with and upgraded their culinary skills. Many, however, did not have access to food or shelter. Daily-wage workers could not feed their families because they had no money to purchase ration.
When Pushparani C (40) and her husband Chandrasekar (41), residents of Trichy, Tamil Nadu, saw people in their city struggling for food, they wanted to help. “Through the lockdown, I witnessed several people in my neighbourhood suffer more from hunger than they did from the coronavirus. I wanted to do my part for society,” says Chandrasekar, who works as a welder.
However, he did not have enough money to purchase ingredients and prepare packaged meals. Instead, he waited until August 2020, unil the lockdown was lifted, and acquired a bank loan of Rs 50,000. With this money, he opened a roadside kiosk and served food for as low as 1 rupee. “We provide meals free of cost for the homeless and elderly who do not have any source of income,” says Pusha Rani, adding that they have been serving up to 400 people every day.
Meals for all
In August, after Chandrasekar secured the bank loan, he purchased a second-hand pushcart, a few utensils, and raw material for cooking. To ensure that the couple could serve a large number of people, they kept their menu simple and set up near their stall near the Trichy Government Law College.
“For breakfast, we served only idlis with chutney and for lunch, we offered a variety of rice such as vegetable rice, pudina rice, or coconut rice. On some days, we served plain rice with sambar and a vegetable sabzi. While breakfast was priced at Rs 1, lunch was provided at Rs 5,” says Chandrasekar, adding that their patrons include students staying at the college’s hostel, daily-wage workers, and families who were homeless.
The duo begins their day at 4 am to prepare breakfast with help from family members including their siblings and their children, Somnath C and Sampath C. They help with cutting and mixing vegetables, or washing vessels.
“Once the food is ready, we transfer it to the pushcart and wait outside the college. Within a few minutes, students come flocking to the stall, and as the day progresses, the elderly, little children, and even families visiting the city join the queue,” says Pusha Rani.
The stall has been serving up to 20 free meals every day, but hopes to serve more. They are open for breakfast from 7 am to 11 am and for lunch from 12 pm to 3 pm.
“While we have a board to inform people about free meals, many are reluctant to approach us and ask for it. However, if we come across someone who could use a meal, we ask them and offer a plate for free,” Pushpa Rani says.
Struggling to make ends meet
Chandrasekar earns roughly Rs 500 to Rs 750 per day. During the lockdown, he couldn’t find any jobs and used his savings to make ends meet. Owing to this, he had to take a loan to open the roadside stall.
“Every day, I spend Rs 6,000 to make the food, and earn only Rs 400 at the end of the day. To repay the loan, I’m paying Rs 500 to the bank every day. Most days, I have been eating into my life savings. However, this does not bring me down, because I aim to serve people and not make a profit from my venture,” says Chandrasekar, adding that he requires monetary help to make ends meet.
While he takes up daily welding jobs now, they are not enough to run the business and provide for his family.
If you wish to donate funds to help Chandrasekar continue and expand his venture you can deposit money directly to his bank account.
Name: Pushparani C
Bank name: Indian Bank
Account number: 6627815759
IFSC Code: IDIB000P006
Phone number: 9865036917
Edited by Divya Sethu