Downtown

Meet Chennai’s service corps

Core team members of Feed The Need with underprivileged children. Photos: Special Arrangement  

Karthik was carrying spanners and ratchets, when he should have been carrying books and pencils. He was spending his time with mechanics and drivers, when he should have been with teachers and classmates. He was not treading this path by choice. Earning just Rs. 150 per day, his parents barely managed to eke out a living and even the most minimal expenditure towards Karthik’s education seemed a luxury.

So, young Karthik ended up as a mechanic at an automobile workshop.

One day, the tide turned.

“Are you interested in studying?” asked a customer at the automobile workshop.

His face lit up with hope, Karthik nodded vigorously, and soon, he was on the way to a government school in Chengalpattu.

Karthik, who is 14 years old now, is one of many children that M. Yuvraj (the customer who visited the automobile workshop and asked that life-changing question) and his friends have helped in this manner through an NGO called Feed The Need.

Feed The Need, a voluntary organisation that, as the name suggests, seeks to meet a need wherever it is found, which primarily includes feeding the hungry and providing poor children access to education.

Founded in 2012 and officially registered in August 2016, Feed The Need (FTN) is the brainchild of Mangla Chandrasekhar and Shobana Shivashankara, who were then students of Rajalakshmi Engineering College.

A noble idea is born

Can you believe that it was the Mogappair Confessions page on Facebook that inspired Mangla to start this noble initiative? To those unfamiliar with Mogappair Confessions, it is a page where any netizen can openly confess their feelings — those of love and hatred and anything else that you can name – anonymously. The name of the sender will be visible only to the administrator of the page.

Mangla was struck by the sheer number of followers the page attracted. “With these many followers, any social cause can be promoted,” she thought.

She then put up a post on the same page, requesting the followers to join her in feeding the poor.

“In just one hour, I received positive responses from 475 people,” she recalls with a smile, adding, “That was the turning point in my life.”

Mangla and Shobana soon joined hands to form a small team, consisting of their collegemates, friends and family members.

The FTN team set about collecting funds to provide food to orphanages, retirement homes, institutions for the mentally and physically challenged and the inaccessible rural areas.

Simultaneously, they ran an awareness programme among orphanages. “We showed them videos of children who were less fortunate than they were. These videos inspired them and some even promised to help such children when they grew up. This gave a tremendous fillip to our initiative,” says Mangla.

When she started Feed The Need in 2012, every student of her college contributed Rs. 5 every day from his/her pocket money. A coordinator from each department would collect and hand over the amount to the team. On an average, Rs 5,000 was collected every day. “Even the housekeeping staff contributed Rs. 50 per month towards this cause.”

By word of mouth and through social media, the initiative soon gained momentum. Help poured in from every quarter in the form of food, clothes, medicines, stationeries, toiletries and money.

The FTN model

FTN, which has a registered office in Vadapalani, has members and volunteers across the state. These volunteers identify and prepare a database of economically deprived families in their respective areas.

They factor in the income and social background of the family “to verify if they have absolutely no means to support themselves in any way.”

In addition to the old, people with special needs, orphans and vulnerable/abandoned children, FTN offers help to children with a single parent; children dependent on ailing parent(s) /grandparent(s); and families in which the head of the family (or both parents) earn less than Rs. 150 per day.

FTN has left its footprints across the city. However, they primarily target institutions and people who live beyond the city limits.

“Chennai has many orphanages within the city, in areas like Anna Nagar, Mylapore and Vadapalani. They are easily accessible and help can be reached to them quickly,” points out M. Yuvraj, who is the president of FTN. “There are similar institutions on the outskirts of the city, whose needs often go unnoticed or unheard. They are in dire need of help as they lack even the basic facilities like a proper bathroom.”

Education for all

Keeping education as part of its primary focus, FTN has designed a programme called FTN Education Help.

“It’s not only the economic situation of a child that matters; a genuine interest in receiving education and a desire to excel scale too are deciding factors when it comes to offering support,” says Yuvraj.

Under this initiative, all members have to mandatorily contribute a minimum amount of Rs 100, every month.

“This goes exclusively towards the education of a student and includes paying for his/her fees, uniforms and stationery items,” he says.

Funding

Four years on, members and volunteers of FTN still reach into their own pockets to fund the education of beneficiary children and to buy food and other articles. Many a time, their families and friends have chipped in. Now that Feed The Need is a registered institution, they hope for more volunteers and sponsors.

At times, people have travelled the length and breadth of the city to provide assistance, which includes medicines, food and clothes.

“There’s no dearth of good people in the world, which is what helps us go on. Our focus was to spread awareness on the need to reach out to those who genuinely deserve our help, be it with food, clothes or money,” says Mangla.

If you would like to be a part of this initiative, and contribute clothes, toiletries, stationery items, uniforms or make a contribution in any other form, contact 9566123950.


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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 6:03:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/Meet-Chennai%E2%80%99s-service-corps/article14620120.ece

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