Mumbai: Limping his way towards the door of a van stationed outside Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) railway station, 28-year-old Mohammad Ashraf, a ragpicker from Wadala, greets a man standing inside the van who hands him a plate of rice and dal. Later, some more ragpickers and homeless people queue up near the van, seeking food.
The ‘Feeding Van’ travels from CSMT to Byculla from Monday to Friday, providing free lunch not just to the homeless but even drug addicts who struggle to earn their daily bread. The meals, ranging from egg rice, vegetables, dal rice to chicken arranged for the homeless and needy, is one of the several programmes by a non-profit organisation, Bombay Teen Challenge (BTC), based in Nagpada.
Ashraf is a regular visitor to the van and has been coming to CSMT every day for the last six years. “I don’t get much work because of my disability. It’s been six years now that I have been visiting the van. Since my lunch is taken care of, sleeping without dinner on a rough day bothers me a little less.”
Sanjay Nanaware, the van coordinator working with BTC for the past 15 years, lists the names and ages of those who come seeking food. Having already befriended the regulars, Nanaware enquires about their family and other developments in their lives.
“Every person who comes here has a story. Most of them are homeless and drug addicts. There are several women who have been abandoned by their families and earn their living by selling hair ties and so on. However, there is a catch here. Not all stories are true. You realise the difference when they narrate their story a third time. It also serves as a communication portal through which we can connect and help the drug addicts rehabilitate,” Nanaware says with a smile.
Sushma Mhatre, a 48-year-old homeless woman living in CSMT, is a regular for the past four years. “I sell plastic sheets and have not slept under a roof for most of my life. They (the trust) take care of the education of my 10-year-old son. He was going astray with the other drug addicts in the neighbourhood,” she says, eating her lunch inside the van.
The feeding van has been circling Mumbai for many years, but in January this year, BTC purchased a new vehicle which was inaugurated at CSMT bus depot by a former boy and his mother who were once beneficiaries of this programme and are now settled in their lives.
It was in the ’90s, the founder of BTC, KK Devraja, was moved by seeing drug abuse among children at that time and decided to start a shelter home and the idea of the feeding van followed. “I used to see how children would scour for food. In order to help them rehabilitate, there was a need to connect with them. The feeding van does that. We then take these children to the shelter homes and help them get a secure life. It makes me proud to see the children grow up and make the best of their lives,” Devraja beams.