People behind Shreyas Kerala, a charitable organisation, who are reaching out to society in their own way

A hot Friday afternoon. It’s 10 minutes past one. A silver-coloured Maruti Omni van, KLO1 A 4967 makes it way through the busy road in front of the Women and Children Hospital, Thycaud, and parks near the bus bay. Within minutes, a fairly long queue forms near the vehicle. The doors of the vehicle are opened to reveal huge vessels inside. While one person hands over steel plates to those in the queue, another one serves hot rice from one vessel. More hands serve erissery, avial and pickle on the plates from the vessels inside the car. In the meantime, we find people waiting in the line with plastic containers and covers.

This scene is repeated every Friday in front of the hospital. The free lunch served by Shreyas Kerala, a charitable organisation, is manna for many people in the city who can’t afford to burn their pockets.

“It is not just for the poor. You can see people from all walks of life — students, auto drivers, workers and even passersby, in addition to patients and their relatives, stopping here to have lunch,” says Manoj V. Narendran, president of Shreyas Kerala.

We meet Remadevi, who works at the Tamil school in Chala, who wanted us to write her comment. “I was returning from Jagathy after some official work. I was dead tired and didn’t have enough money to have lunch at a hotel. This food came as a blessing for me,” she says, as her eyes well up. And there was another well-dressed, middle-aged man who stops there out of curiosity, but wastes no time to stand in the queue and collect the food.

Such moments are part and parcel of their lives for Manoj and his team who form the backbone of Shreyas. Like Radhika Unni, the secretary of Shreyas, her husband V. Unni, an autorickshaw driver and a member of the state committee of Shreyas, and Maya S., a homemaker.

Shreyas, which was formed as a charitable organisation by a veteran political leader in 1995, now has branches across the state. “Each of the branches is into different activities. Ours is the only branch that serves free lunch and we have been doing it for the last four years. Earlier we used to give food inside the hospital. But when certain officials complained, we moved out,” says Manoj, who hails from Wayanad, but moved to the capital city when Shreyas needed a full-time volunteer.

Every Friday they make lunch for 1,000 people. “There are people who come from far-off places just to collect the lunch and go home. By 2.30-3 p.m., the food gets over. In addition to Fridays we provide lunch on other days of the week, if someone sponsors the lunch. In such cases we serve payasam as well. Usually on the menu is rice, avial, sambar or erissery, and a pickle. We also bring kanji vellam (rice gruel). Earlier we used to serve in disposable plates. But when people started leaving behind those plates on the road side, we switched to steel plates,” Manoj adds.

Where do the funds come from? “We manage it somehow!” Manoj says with a smile which doesn’t reveal much. “Of course, generous minds help. The expenses come to around Rs. 10,000 and we don’t take more than Rs. 5,000 from the sponsor. To reduce expenditure, the food is prepared by the members only and it is transported in our vehicle. That doesn’t mean we compromise on quality. Utmost care is taken while cooking the food and there has been not a single complaint so far,” he adds.

The organisation has around 30 active members. Besides providing free lunch, Shreyas provides free dialysis, has self-help groups under it, holds free medical camps and provides financial help for cancer patients.

“This work gives a lot of satisfaction,” says Radhika, who used to be part of a self-help group under Shreyas. The organisation has now also opened an ‘old clothes bank’ where used dresses will be collected and dispersed to the needy.

And if things go as planned, starting next week, Shreyas will start providing lunch free of cost on the General Hospital premises every Wednesday. Contact: 9349993219.