|Parishioners of parishioners of the Our Lady of Fatima Church in Faridabad Diocese in New Delhi distribute food packets to the poor on Jan. 29. (Photo by Ritu Sharma)|
Every Sunday Mohammad Ali waits outside a church for free, homemade food. Aged 15, Ali sleeps on a street in south New Delhi and begs for a living.
However, once a week he gets home-cooked food without begging. "I eat leftovers people give me or sometimes I can buy a little from whatever money I get. Eating this homemade food is a privilege," Ali says.
Sitting on a flattened newspaper on the pavement, Ali, along with his friend, open the food and gobble big bites of Indian bread with vegetables and rice dumplings.
Every Sunday, a group of parishioners from Our Lady of Fatima Church in Faridabad Diocese, distribute food packets to Ali and others.
Named Paadheyam, which means, "food packed for a journey," the parishioners began the project in October 2016 to provide fresh, home-cooked food to the poor.
"The food is not prepared in a community kitchen, nor is it bought. We bring a share of what we prepare for ourselves," said N.C. Shaji, a parishioner.
The parish has 350 families and most bring portions of spare food when they go for Sunday Mass. The food is usually two or three pieces of Indian bread and cooked vegetables wrapped in paper. Some families even bring more than one packet. The parish often collects a little over 200 packets every Sunday.
"We see a lot of people starving on the streets and in the neighborhood. God has blessed us with so many things so we want to help them and share with them what blessings we receive," Father Jacob Nangelimalil, the parish priest, told ucanews.com.
For Hari Kishan and his family of five, who live on the streets, the food is a life saver.
"They give us a stomach-filling meal and ask if we want more. There are very few left who care for people like us. Even if it is once a week, it is good food," said Kishan, who lost a leg in an accident in 2016.
Like Kishan and Ali, there are many homeless people begging under street lights, on pavements and roads, who look forward to the food.
Left out of the system
India's 2011 census showed that the country has some 1.77 million without homes. Almost all of them beg for food.
Some 270 million of India's 1.2 billion people are considered poor and about 80 percent of them live in villages, according to 2012 data from the World Bank.
The government has some welfare schemes but most do not reach the urban homeless. For example, the government launched a program called Antyodaya Anna Yojana in 2012 to provide subsidized food but only people with identity records could access it.
Homeless people are not recorded in any system and cannot benefit from government schemes, said Daisy Alexander, a parishioner.
She told ucanews.com that people who come to collect food packets "are so hungry that some start eating standing up, as soon as they get it."
"It is a very overwhelming feeling. Beyond words," she said, adding that sparing a small share from your food is something everyone can do.
Parishioners also collect clothes to distribute and the parish has plans to financially help homeless people with medical care and education, Alexander added.
Apart from this, another group of parishioners prepare food packets at a community kitchen and distribute them among the poor every Friday. "This month they have distributed 1,200 packets. They buy the raw ingredients, cook them and share the expenses mutually," Father Nangelimalil said.
But people like Ali and Kishan are not bothered to ask about the religious background or motivations of those serving the food. Both said they have no idea about who is doing it or why.
"I'm hungry. Someone is giving me food and I'm eating it. That's it," Ali said.
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