Lay Catholic food bank spreads across India's Goa

Future plans to assist the homeless and impoverished include a blood bank and an employment agency
Lay Catholic food bank spreads across India's Goa

Archbishop Felip Neri Ferrao of Goa hands a memento on May 18 to a recipient for exceptional services rendered to the Street Providence food bank. On the far left is Donald Fernandes who established the food bank which now has 28 centers across Goa. (Photo by Bosco de Souza Eremita)

A Catholic salesman who kept wondering about how leftover food could best be used is now feeding thousands of people through 28 food banks across Goa in India.

The initiative called Street Providence completed its first year on May 18 and has six salaried staff as well as 160 volunteers in the western state.

Donald Fernandes, previously a supplier of butter and margarine, witnessed huge quantities of food being discarded at up-market hotels as well as at various confectioneries, bakeries and restaurants.

"So I wondered if this wastage could be put to good use," Fernandes told

Fernandes, incidentally a 1996 world record holder for cycling 40 kilometers while playing a violin, began supplying cooked food from his home to some 50 individuals on advice from his spiritual guide after he recovered from a serious ailment.

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Soon he began feeding people sleeping on the streets.

In 2015, Fernandes purchased an old ambulance and began picking up people who could not afford transport to hospitals.

His mission grew as he offered 20 people in distress accommodation in his family's abandoned ancestral home.

Invitations were extended via social media for people to donate their extra food and a friend, who was involved in similar activities in the commercial hub of Mumbai, joined him.

Currently, the centers feed about 3,000 people, Fernandes said.

From June 2017, they also began taking homeless and abandoned men for a shave, haircut, bath, food and rudimentary medical treatment and then dropping them back to wherever they were picked up.

Fernandes came to realize there was a need to offer these men a chance at rehabilitation and a house was rented for this purpose.

Volunteers began collecting food from hotels and elsewhere to be refrigerated before distribution.

And food packages were given out at church centers or other places where impoverished people gathered.

Later, three more homes were added to meet a growing demand for accommodation of the destitute.

Many people made donations and companies provided services and goods ranging from towels to toothpaste and medicine.

Inacio Oliveira, a journalist-volunteer, admitted that some undeserving people also make merry at distribution points.

"Many a time daily-wage workers and some alcoholics also stand in line to benefit," he said.

Plans are afoot to in future only give food to people in genuine need.

"But as of now, food is in abundance and nobody is complaining," Oliveira said.

On the anniversary of the food centers being set-up, Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao of Goa encouraged more Catholics to join the movement.

He also offered infrastructure, such as abandoned church premises, for accommodation and service delivery.

Also on the drawing board are plans to rehabilitate destitute and mentally ill women with the help of female volunteers and nuns.

Organizers further want to establish a blood bank and an employment agency.

And a service to help poor people apply for state welfare is in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Bipin Kusawar, a daily wager who earns 500 rupees (US$9) when he has employment, appreciates the quality of the fare available at the food centers.

"It's a wedding party daily," he said.

"We thank God for this service."

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