ERODE: Even as government hospitals and health centres across the State have managed to provide (to varying degrees of satisfaction) free health care to those who cannot afford it, little has been done about meeting their primary needs — food, clothing and shelter. Filling in this gap in their small-scale way, this couple is making sure that at least 70 people a day at the government Erode hospital do not go without food.
Owners of an eatery near the hospital, they distribute food to patients and their attendants for just Re 1 per meal. What began as a gesture in response to one person’s plight has now become a routine service over the past decade.
This humanitarian project began when 12 years ago a woman trying to buy food for her ailing husband at the hospital could not afford dosais at the AVM Homely Mess. She had come in to buy idlies for Rs 10. Since the restaurant had run out of idlies, they offered dosais instead. Though the woman left without buying any food, V Venkatraman — the owner — decided to check up on her at the hospital. It was then that he was faced with the reality of the pitiable conditions these patients had to contend with; especially at a time when they need extra care. From there, it was a short path to starting this food service exclusively for the patients and their families.
Venkatraman was joined in this effort by his wife and yoga instructor G Rajalakshmi. Given that they already ran a restaurant, they had little trouble increasing the quantity of the food prepared every day to provide for the scheme. Then, they put in place a system that covered as many patients as possible with their limited resources. At the start of the day, they give away 60-70 tokens to people at the hospital. Depending on the patients/attendants’ needs, they provide them with breakfast, lunch or dinner. And, so it began.
The couple spends Rs 1,500-2,000 a day on this work. Yet, they charge only Re 1 per meal.
And they did not just stop with the food. Taking time out to visit the hospital and learn about the common needs of the patients there, Venkatraman found out that they seldom had money for every other expense that comes with hospitalisation. During the winter months, people were forced to lie down on the cold floor without any cover. Patients and their family alike had no footwear for the scorching summer.
Thus began the supply of essentials like blankets, plates, footwear and toiletries -- these too for free.