Revival of hushed hospitality: Chennai volunteers providing homecooked food for homeless

With the lockdown restrictions easing further from this week, Chennai Volunteers revives its Dinners with Dignity initiative to serve the homeless
With the revival, the team hopes to rope in more volunteers.
With the revival, the team hopes to rope in more volunteers.

CHENNAI: We see a lot of homeless people in the best and worst parts of town. But, somewhere, we have become so busy with our lives, that we have decided to put on the blinkers and ignore them,” begins Rinku Mecheri, the founder of the volunteering organisation, Chennai Volunteers (CV). Yet, there are a select few in the city who have been quietly aiding the homeless with CV’s ‘Dinners with Dignity’ initiative.

Started six years ago by Rinku, the initiative is a method of driving volunteering into the community sphere. Once a week, a group of people make homecooked meals and deliver them to the homeless in their area. “It’s about acknowledging the homeless, mapping them in your area and giving them that one hot meal. People bring whatever they can. Some come with five packets, some ten. Some bring sambar sadam; I, for instance, bring vegetable khichdi,” she adds.

The slowdown

Like much else in the past two years, the initiative found itself facing a hurdle with the pandemic. “With work from home, cook from home, children being inside, along with their spouses and parents, people had a lot on their plate during the pandemic. We used to do this in other areas — Chetpet, Kilpauk, Egmore, Besant Nagar, Kolathur. But we now continue mainly in Mylapore, Eldams Road and RA Puram. Since things are opening up, we are reviving it again,” she shares.

As a part of the revival, long-time patron Iyyappan Subramaniyan, founder of Sri Arunodayam, is bringing back the action to Kolathur. “Earlier, we used to cook some extra meals along with our dinner and serve it to the homeless around my area. Some people drop their food at our house. In our area, there are a lot of people on the streets. Some areas like Padi, Madhavaram, Red Hills, and Kolathur have a lot of people living with their children under the bridges. So, we’re starting the initiative again this week,” he shares. The volunteers are also extending their help by providing blankets and fruits on Rinku’s request.

Hands that come together

After years of this operation, there seem to be some from the other side who have joined the cause as well. “We have a beneficiary of the initiative, who lives right outside the office on a fish cart. Now, he comes along with us to distribute the food too,” Rinku smiles. The initiative seems to have a way of inspiring people like that. Despite many groups dropping out in a few areas, some volunteers individually held their ground and continued the service without expecting any recognition. Now, there is a need for not only manpower but also consistency.

“Dinners with Dignity has always had a lot of traction but one thing we need is a long-term commitment. So, we have eight people assigned for every location. That way, even if two-three can’t make it on a particular day, there are others to make up for it,” says Rinku.

Consistency is something that will benefit not just the movement but also the volunteers and their understanding of the situation. As Rinku puts it, “Amid other benefits, volunteering helps you evolve as a person. You go out, you could be anyone from anywhere. But, when you hunker down next to the man lying at the bus stop and ask if they want food, they’ll simply ask you to keep it and leave. They also have their self-respect and it will take time till they begin to trust you. Week after week, you go there, then they start trusting you and opening up. You won’t feel the impact if you do it just once.”

Before the lockdown, the initiative drove people from various walks of life to volunteering services, according to Iyyappan, who welcomed housewives, office goers, college and school students and many more. “There were kids who would save their packets of food for donation,” he gleams. Perhaps, the cause can create a larger and stronger army now since it seems to be coming back with in full swing. “Feeding people is one of the most instantly gratifying ways to give,” Rinku leaves us with some food for thought.

To join the volunteers for their Dinner with Dignity initiative, contact 9840182299.

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