Church group feeds destitute during Indian lockdown

Indore campaign has inspired others to think of similar activities in their areas, organizers say
Church group feeds destitute during Indian lockdown

A street dog looks on as a Catholic volunteer hands over a food packet to a destitute man on a street of central India's Indore city on March 26. Homeless people were hungry as India entered the second day of a 21-day Covid-19 lockdown. (Photo supplied)

A Catholic media group in central India has initiated a campaign to feed the poor as a government-imposed lockdown entered its second day on March 26, forcing hundreds living on the streets to go hungry.

A group of people working with Atmadarshan (soul light) TV, an internet channel telecast from Indore city, launched a “feed a stomach” campaign to provide food to the homeless in their area.

“We are distributing food packets to 50 poor people on the streets daily,” said Father Anand Chirayath, director of the channel.

India has 1.77 million homeless people living on the streets, mostly begging or doing odd jobs for food. However, the countrywide lockdown that began at midnight on March 24 has left them hungry, the priest said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the 21-day lockdown by asking all 1.3 billion Indians to remain inside their homes in a bid to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So far, India has reported 12 deaths and 664 confirmed coronavirus cases, a huge jump from the situation a fortnight ago.

The shutdown has forced shops, restaurants and businesses to close and stopped all vehicular movement on the roads.

“This has created a serious survival problem for the thousands of abandoned who are dependent on alms for their sustenance,” Father Chirayath said.

The priest said some members of his staff “wanted to do something for these people,” and all agreed to launch their #feedaStomach campaign through their channel and social media.

“When we reached a busy business hub in the town, it was deserted. But a person aged about 50 was searching for food in a dry garbage bin,” Famin Jacob, a campaigner, told UCA News on March 25.

“We offered him hot food made of rice and wheat. The man was brimming with joy.” 

Father Chirayath said the team includes a professional cook. “All sanitize themselves before cooking, before packing and again after distribution. We follow the precautionary measures announced by the government to ensure that our mission lasts all 21 days,” he said.

Anjana Kullu, a volunteer who joined the initiative, told UCA News that she was “initially anxious” about the possibility of contracting the virus.

“But when I saw everyone taking precautions such as sanitizing hands, covering faces with masks and using hand gloves, I realized my fears were unfounded. It was a unique experience for me. We distribute the food by observing the social distancing norm,” she said.

She said they could see “many people still sitting on the road hungry and looking for someone to feed them.”

Aarti Anthony, another volunteer, said they prioritized those who were lying on the roadside unable to walk.

Father Chirayath said the initiative had received a positive response from the public. “Many have come forward to help. Our attempt has also prompted some others to express a desire to engage in similar activities in their areas,” he said.

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