In focus What’s the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon? Cooking for the homeless, believe volunteers at Youngistaan, who feed nearly 450 people every week, reports RANJANI RAJENDRA

What is the most common way for a youngster to spend a Sunday? Chances are most people will come up with predictable things like movies and an evening out with friends. Not for the volunteers of Youngistaan though, who choose to devote a couple of hours every weekend to help the homeless.

The drive that was started in March 2012 by four friends and now boasts of nearly 50 volunteers, has youngsters meeting every Sunday afternoon to first cook and pack food for close to 450 people and then distribute it to the homeless.

“I am part of a band and we always wanted to do something for society. We started off by visiting orphanages and then finally decided to help the homeless with food. It was time we made a difference,” says Arvind Tony, of Youngistaan.

The group started off by feeding around 50 people. “We would order packets of food from a bakery and distribute them. Gradually, people who noticed our work began to join hands with us and we were able to reach larger numbers. In September 2012 we switched to cooking and packing the food ourselves,” says Arun Daniel Yellamaty, a Youngistaan member. The youngsters are helped by Abhilash Raj, who runs a catering business.

Every Sunday afternoon a group of Youngistaan volunteers gather at Chirag Ali Lane in Abids to cook and pack the food. The process which begins at 3pm goes on till 7pm.

A second batch of volunteers arrives at 7pm and carries the food packets to different areas across the city for distribution.

The groups go to areas like Chaderghat, Afzalgunj, Nampally, Narayanguda, Himayatnagar, Dilsukhnagar, Secunderabad Clock Tower, Kacheguda station and Masab Tank etc.

However, their work doesn’t end at merely distributing the food. “We talk to the people and try to gauge their problems. Over a period of time they have begun to open up to us.

We encourage them to get a job and those who are interested are directed to the Youth Development Centre,” says Praneeth Gazula, a SAP consultant.

The group which comprises both working professionals and students aims to help the people receive medical aid as well when required.

“Since we are not qualified to hand out prescription drugs, we try and take them to a medical camp once in a few months,” says Praneeth.

However, the going is not always easy for Youngistaan. “On an average it costs us Rs 10,000 to make 450 food packets. Funds are usually chipped in by Youngistaan members or donors who have heard of our work,” says Arun.

But there are times when the group has only Rs 2,000 to make do with. At such times they stick to distributing food only in one or two areas.

“We are working on getting Youngistaan registered as a society. This way it will open a lot of doors for us,” says Arun.

It’s more than just charity

As Vineeth Methuselah, an MBA and candid wedding photographer, heads to Masab Tank on a warm Sunday evening, the affection that homeless people have for him is obvious. They greet him with warm smiles and are grateful to accept the hot khichdi he brings. As he tries to talk them into working instead of begging, a few of them agree. “Get me a job that does not require lifting heavy things and I am willing,” says a frail old lady.

Moulasa, in his 70s, flashes a toothy grin. “These boys have been coming with food for us for the last several months. It feels nice that there is somebody who cares enough to spend a few minutes for us. I am not happy begging, but I come from Anantapur where the lack of rain has driven us out of jobs. With no choice left, I came to the city to earn a living, but nobody will give us a job,” he says.