For one humble family-based organisation, charity prevails as they continue to serve during the pandemic lockdown in Sydney.
Husband and wife duo Sunil and Ritu Hargunani are still providing hot meals for the homeless, including those in the inner-city areas of the CBD. The pair co-founded their not-for-profit charity ASTHA in 2017 and have been travelling from the west of Sydney ever since to set up a stall outside Central Station.
“It’s important anytime, let alone during a pandemic in winter, to keep helping those who are less fortunate than most of us,” Sunil says.
“They are waiting for us, so we have never missed a service,” says Ritu. “We are here every fortnight for the past four years. We have never stopped, even with COVID-19 and lockdowns.”
And it’s not just food they distribute. ASTHA has grown substantially, now providing food, blankets and clothing as well to more than 120 homeless people. The duo has built a support base of about 100 volunteers who drop in from nearby houses and apartments to assist. It’s heart-warming to see local residents donate necessities, and their time, helping Sunil and Ritu.
Apart from hot home-cooked meals, they issue canned food like soups and tuna. They also provide essential clothing and even free haircuts for the homeless.
ASTHA operates without favour. Ritu and Sunil make it clear they do not discriminate between race or religion. They believe in equality amongst everybody and do not promote their Shirdi Sai Baba religious beliefs. Their charity not only feeds and gives the homeless physical comfort, but also gives them encouragement and a sense of pride.
“We have a couple of stories where we have helped rehabilitate people back into society, helping them with clothes and shoes. Giving them the confidence to go for an interview. Donating a bicycle to one of the fellows who started working because he got that confidence. He could travel anywhere with that bicycle. Little things like these small stories make it even more worthwhile,” says Ritu.
It is obvious to an observer that many of the homeless people had come to know each other and enjoy a sense of camaraderie while waiting in line to collect their meals. Several said they had been coming every fortnight for four years. Their rapport with Sunil and Ritu was obvious and genuine. Without fail, they offered warm thanks. “See you in a fortnight,” was the common parting comment.
The couple did not seek publicity and were surprised in the media interest. It is clear the term “unsung heroes” was never more appropriate.