Saraswati Vishwakarma spends her day in and out of a public hospital in Mumbai since her niece was admitted there. On most of the days, she goes hungry and sometimes a small vada pav is all that she can afford to eat in the entire day. Like Saraswati, thousands of underprivileged families live outside government hospitals in extreme conditions, with no food or a bed to sleep on, waiting for their loved ones to get the treatment they require.
Many families from low-income backgrounds come to cities from rural areas searching for critical medical care for their family members in government hospitals.
Due to severe understaffing in government health institutions, it is detrimental to both patients and their loved ones, who have to take on the mantle of caring for the basic needs of their family members who have been admitted to the hospital. Even as they feed and bathe their loved ones, their own well-being often takes a back seat. They live outside government hospitals in extreme conditions, sleeping on pavements and often starving for days to save a little money. They subsist on little to no food for weeks or even months as they wait for their family members to recover.
To reduce the suffering of already distraught family members, India's largest donation platform GiveIndia, in partnership with NGO Akshaya Chaitanya, has started a fundraiser to support 1,500 family members living outside government hospitals, and to ensure that none of them feels the pangs of hunger.
'One Full Meal-A Day'
GiveIndia came to know about Akshaya Chaitanya's initiative, which was running out of funds. The NGO also wanted to reach out to more people with its programme. In consultation with the NGO, GiveIndia launched the fundraiser to raise ₹50 lakh for the 'Hospital Feeding Programme.'
Akshaya Chaitanya addresses the hunger of family members of patients from low-income backgrounds in Mumbai's government hospitals by providing nutritious food free of cost. Through their hospital feeding service, the organisation cooks free food in their 8,000 sq. ft Byculla kitchen that caters to marginalised poor communities.
The organisation has its roots in the decade-old history of the Hare Krishna Movement Charitable Foundation (HKMCF), which began its free meals service in Hyderabad in 2011.
HKMCF has feeding programmes in various parts of the country. It started serving food to COVID-19 warriors and families of patients at Mumbai's St. George Hospital and Cama & Albless Hospital in 2021. For this programme, Akshaya Chaitanya is also supported by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Directorate of Medical Education & Research (DMER), the Government of Maharashtra.
The food is prepared in the FSSAI-compliant centralised kitchen where 110 kgs of rice, 80 kgs of dal and 140 kgs of vegetables are cooked every day. Rice, mixed veg gravy, sambhar, pulao and curd are some of the items the NGO prepares and has served over three lakh cumulative meals so far.
Food Safety Measures
The organisation follows standard operating procedures and food safety measures in the entire process, beginning from personal hygiene of staff, raw material procurement, storage, cleaning, cutting, cooking, packing, and delivering to the beneficiaries.
Speaking to The Logical Indian about the importance of providing free meals to family members of patients, Vikas Parchhanda, CEO, Akshaya Chaitanya, Maharashtra Chapter, said, "They stay here for weeks, sometimes even months. They are poor, most of them have no medical insurance, they lose their livelihood and have no place to stay. Many find refuge on sidewalks and pavements to sleep and decide to go hungry for days, just to save a few more rupees. So we wanted to ensure no families of the patients getting treated in these hospitals go hungry or compromise on their meals."
"Each of these 1500 family members waits in anticipation for the food to be served the next day. But now our grocery and vegetable stock is depleting, and we require urgent support from people to continue feeding these hungry souls," Parchhanda added.
Every day Akshaya Chaitanya serves 1,500 free, unlimited hot and nutritious meals at Mumbai's four major public hospitals. These free meals help families save at least ₹100 every day- a big amount for low-income individuals. So far, over three lakh meals have been served since July 21 last year.
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