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‘My Father’s Last Wish’: One Man’s Free Tiffin Service Provides Meals to 500 Seniors Daily

Rakesh Panchal honoured his father’s last wish by starting ‘Visamo Tiffin Seva’. What began as a small act of serving food to a few underprivileged individuals has evolved into a significant initiative, providing over 2.5 lakh meals to seniors in need. Here’s how you can help.

‘My Father’s Last Wish’: One Man’s Free Tiffin Service Provides Meals to 500 Seniors Daily

Many of us carry regrets about not fulfilling our loved ones’ wishes, especially our parents’. Some wish they could go back and change things, while others follow the path their parents showed them. Rakesh Panchal decided to do the latter.

Just two days after his father Manubhai Panchal’s death, the 44-year-old started serving food to the underprivileged. What started as a wish to fulfil his father’s wish by doing seva (service) has grown into a full-fledged initiative to distribute full meals daily to over 500 senior citizens in Gujarat’s Vaso taluka.

Less than two days before the father passed away, he had a conversation with his son that sparked this important mission. It started as one person’s effort to feed the poor and has now grown into a registered trust that employs 18 people, serving over 2.5 lakh meals until now.

Christened ‘Visamo Tiffin Seva’, Rakesh’s motto is ‘He who gives, receives’. So what exactly did his father say that changed the trajectory of this businessman’s life?

Honouring his father’s last wish

Rakesh is living by his father's ideals
Rakesh is living by his father’s ideals of service to all

Rakesh dropped out of college in his second year of BSc and started working in a local private news channel to pursue his passion for journalism. He then joined a news channel in Hyderabad and worked in cities like Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai.

“The first salary I drew was Rs 200,” recounts Rakesh in a conversation with The Better India. However, he had to return home to his father about a decade ago when his father’s health deteriorated. Rakesh decided to settle down in Vaso and eventually started expanding his father’s construction material business.

“I spent three years working with my father. I learnt a lot about business as well as life in this time! I got an insight into the workings of his mind. He would keep a jug of cold water and give it to anyone passing by to quench their thirst. This was his way of doing seva,” he adds.

Rakesh is living by his father's ideals of service for all
Rakesh’s father Manubhai wished to serve food to the poor.

During this time, Rakesh used to frequent the Vaso Government Hospital for work. After the construction was complete, the hospital authorities told him that food was a major problem for patients who were coming from neighbouring villages. They requested him to find a way to provide them with food.

Parallely, Rakesh’s father Manubhai shared his wish to give free food to the poor. “He wanted to do Ram roti seva (free food for the poor). I told him that it would be expensive and we could do it after a few years. But just three days later, he died suddenly. That conversation kept playing in my mind and I felt very bad,” shares Rakesh.

He then visited the hospital and asked the doctors what breakfast would be good for the patients, specifically pregnant women. As per the doctor’s advice, he started getting sheera (a sweet made with semolina, ghee, sugar and dry fruits) and served it to three pregnant women. He planned to do this for 15 days to honour his father’s wish.

“I thought that I would feel satisfied after serving these women hot breakfasts for 15 days. But I started enjoying it and wanted to do more. I met an old man behind the hospital on the 15th day who didn’t even have one square meal a day. I asked a man who used to provide tiffins to everyone to give him one daily and take the money from me,” says Rakesh.

‘Only a lucky few get a chance to serve the poor’

Rakesh provides food to 500 seniors in and around Vaso village
Rakesh provides food to 500 seniors in and around Vaso village.

Initially, it would cost Rakesh about Rs 300 per day to distribute food. As he started paying for meals for abandoned senior citizens, his costs rose to Rs 500 per day. He posted about it on Facebook, and one of his friends donated Rs 500 to the cause. Soon, more donations started trickling in.

From feeding one old man, he gradually started feeding 15 old people, with each meal costing Rs 50 per day. He knew that outsourcing wasn’t going to cut it anymore as more people reached out for food. During the COVID lockdown too, he couldn’t serve food as the tiffin service wasn’t optional.

To avoid such gaps, he registered ‘Visamo Sarvajanik Charitable Trust Vaso’ and started a kitchen of his own. “We first took a place in Vaso itself where we could cook for 100 to 200 people. As the number of people we served increased, we moved to a kitchen in Nadiad, which had a commercial gas line and could easily cook for 500 people,” says Rakesh.

Today, the Visamo Tiffin Seva provides hot lunches consisting of roti, dal, rice and sabzi to more than 500 people in Vaso and four nearby villages. They have 18 employees and numerous vans to transport the food.

Rakesh also provides milk and biscuits for breakfast at the hospital daily. It costs him Rs 21,000 daily and he has been managing to bear the costs through crowdfunding.

Rakesh provides food to 500 seniors in and around Vaso village
Rakesh provides food to 500 seniors in and around Vaso village.

Rakesh says most of these seniors don’t have anyone and stay on the roads, or alone at home. “These people are dependent on the benevolence of others even for one roti. I found a widow whose house was strewn with Rs 5 snacks. On enquiry, she told me that she would fill her stomach with that, and it was years since she had eaten dal, roti or rice as she couldn’t cook. I cannot forget the joy in her eyes after she ate a full meal,” adds the social worker.

Rakesh found ‘Visamo’ (resting place) written on the cremation ground after he finished the last rites of his father. That’s why he named the trust Visamo, as he wished it to provide relaxation to the elders.

“This provides satisfaction not just to the people we provide food to, but to me also. I feel an aura of positivity whenever I serve food. It has given my life a new purpose,” says Rakesh. But there is a long way to go, he adds, wanting to expand his services to provide food to more poor people.

“My father would often say that anyone can earn money through hard work. It’s only a lucky few who get a chance to do seva. I’m trying to live by his words,” he says.

If you wish to help Rakesh’s endeavour, you can donate here.

Edited by Pranita Bhat

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