Chennai: It was a foggy winter night in Delhi. Shilpam saw a woman cooking for her sick child outside AIIMS hospital. The former resident of Delhi, who shifted to Chennai two years ago with her husband - ADGP Sandeep Rathore - found that many out-patients who come to AIIMS are very poor. They hardly have the means to buy medicines, leave alone food.
"When I saw the woman cooking, I actually wanted to build them a shelter," recollects Shilpam Kapur Rathore. "But I knew I didn't have the funds. That was when I decided to give them cooked meals."
Thus began Aranya Foundation in 2015. Today, the team has extended its altruistic arm to Chennai and has served more than 1,00,000 meals.
"For the past three months, we have been serving around 110 meals every day for patients at the Government Eye Hospital in Egmore," says Shilpam.
So how does Shilpam manage to feed several patients? "I went to the AIIMS hospital canteen, asked them to cook for the patients and told them I would pay for it," she says.
To maintain hygiene and nutritious intake, she opted to get the food directly from the canteen. Likewise, in Chennai, she has partnered with a catering service. Once the meals are ready, they are collected by volunteers who distribute them to patients at Egmore hospital.
"I remember the first time I gave food to the patients," reminisces Shilpam.
"They had tears in their eyes. I also came across a child who asked me — after receiving the meals — if I will be coming again tomorrow," she recalls.
She also worries about the attendants who take care of the patients. "We need to help them as they work really hard," says Shilpam. "I have seen that not many hospitals offer them meals."
Shilpam receives funds from well-wishers. "Every time I get donation from people, I keep telling them that they have fed a patient," smiles Shilpam.
She is planning to organise a fund-raising event at The Hilton Hotel, Chennai, on 26 August to promote her cause. The event will see the performances of Qawwali singers — Nizami Bandhu.
She also plans to start preparing the meals by hiring destitute women. "I want to empower women who don't have the means to earn," says Shilpam.
What drives her to feed the patients? "When I saw the woman cooking for her loved one in Delhi, I decided to do something," says Shilpam. "I asked myself, what can I do to at least remove a little suffering from their lives? That was when I saw that many couldn't afford to eat. I want to give hope to such people. We have so many blessings in life. We should do something about helping those who don't have that."
Shilpam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org