Kommaragiri Yogiya used to beg for a living. Often her family survived on a meal a day, but that too stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amongst such challenges, the 75-year-old Indian woman still has to feed her octogenarian husband and a mentally challenged son.
The railway station in Tenali town in southern Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district where she used to beg is now shut due the nationwide lockdown. A little money and some leftovers from travelers came her way when the station functioned.
Her family was on the brink of starvation when she received a ‘Mother’s Meal’ kit that consisted of essential food items and toiletries worth Rs 500 ($7).
“The kit had rice, wheat powder, lentils, spices, tamarind, cooking oil and sugar besides toiletries,” Yogiya said. “I am not only able to provide proper meals for my family but also to cook a long-desired dish. I had forgotten how it tasted as I could not afford the ingredients,” she said.
Another beneficiary of the church-run program, Talapala Lakshmana Rao, a 39-year-old visually challenged man, said his mother used to work as maid but lost her job after the pandemic.
“We were hard pressed till we got this kit,” Rao said.
Father Thomas Thazhatheuveettil, who is associated with Mukthi (deliverance) Society for Tribal Integration, said the society, through the Mother’s Meal program, have given ration kits to 15 families who live near the rail tracks in the coastal town of Tenali.
“They belong to the Yanadi tribe and are extremely poor and mostly disabled beggars,” Father Thazhatheuveettil said.
A national movement
While the Mukthi Society for Tribal Integration in Guntur provided kits to beggars from the railway station, the National Federation of the Blind gave likewise support to 25 visually challenged persons in Tamil Nadu. The Dehra Dun based Waste Warriors organization extended help to the waste workers through the program. Sex workers and HIV infected families were supported with kits in Mumbai, capital city of central Maharashtra state.
Mother’s Meal is a national movement started by a group of social entrepreneurs under leadership of Claretian priest Father George Kannanthanam. It’s aimed at feeding the most vulnerable people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Mother’s Meal was inaugurated at Delhi on Aug. 15, India’s Independence Day, by former Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph along with K J Alphonse, MP and former federal minister.
Distribution of the programs kits in the country has been done via 55 locations in all of India’s 28 states and the eight federally-ruled ones, helping over 1,000 families.
One of those families was that of Teresa Zonuni’s from Maubuang village near Aizwal in the eastern state of Mizoram.
“We had struggled to buy a spoonful of lentils but now with the kit we got lentils, spices, rice, wheat and especially milk free of cost,” Zonuni said.
“My three daughters enjoyed the milk, a scarcity and something I could ill-afford. Even my mentally challenged daughter was all smiles after she got the milk,” she said. Zonuni said she and her family will the receive a kit every month till next year.
Beena Venkatesh, who was recently widowed and lives with three children in Pulpally village in southern state Kerala’s Wayanad district, said more than the kit what made her happy was that there are people who care.
“We are not alone in our suffering. Even though we are Hindus, Christians are caring for us,” Venkatesh said.
Father Kannanthanam said that Mother’s Meal is about family-to-family support. It’s based on the idea that 50 percent of well to do families in India could support the very poor ten percent families by providing a mere Rs 500 per month.
“What made me come up with this idea was an Oxfam report which stated that as many as 12,000 people might die every day due to COVID-induced hunger globally,” Father Kannanthanam said.
Now the Mother’s Meal program has the target of providing support for a million people over a period of a year. It aims to be a supplement to the rations that the government provides. Each kit should be able to help a family of four for a month. It will be provided every month for a year.
Father Kannanthanam said the name of the program was inspired by his mother Brigit, who passed away in June, who never let any beggar who came to their home go without a meal.
Justice Joseph said that a mother is full of love. “And that love is expressed through sharing, caring and giving,” he said.
Joseph urged all Indians, no matter what their faith, to join in this expression of love by collaborating in the project.
The project was soft-launched on July 16 in Bengaluru, the capital city of southern Karnataka state, to commemorate the 171st foundation day of the Claretian Congregation and the 50th year of its presence in India.
Those who donate can keep track of the beneficiary and also render any further help to the family, if they so desire, Father Kannanthanamsaid.
One of the donors, Soy Joseph, who is a legal consultant from southern Tamil Nadu state, said he wanted to make a long-term commitment.
“Today we are trying to sustain them but tomorrow we want them to be able to sustain themselves. We want to go beyond just providing some rations,” he said.
“I am mobilizing at least 100 people to donate so that we can help more people and extend more provisions to these people who are mostly in the below poverty line category.”
The Mother’s Meal program is also going international with the Chinese territory of Macau set to be its first global destination, Father Kannanthanam said.
The Claretians will inaugurate Mother’s Meal in Macau on Sept. 5 by providing provisions worth US $25 to 50 needy families.
Bishop Stephen Lee Bun Sang of Macau made the first donation of $1,250 for the venture, Father Kannanthanam said.
Father Jijo Kandamkulathy, one of the founders of the Mother’s Meal program, is coordinating the Macau program.
“The next international destination could be Sri Lanka and some African countries where we have our Claretian missions. We are yet to decide,” Father Kannanthanam said. “But we are also open to collaborate with secular missions to run the program in other countries.”
Father Kannanthanam said anyone can become part of this movement, by adopting a family or referring a family in extreme poverty through the website mothersmeal.life.