Indian priest leads local efforts helping poor affected by pandemic lockdown

During the time of COVID-19 a typical day for Father R. Jesudass begins with preparing aid for poor families around the village of Dharmapuri in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu.

This has become the 45-year-old’s new normal ever since the imposed lockdown was put in place to suppress the spread of the new coronavirus.  

Popularly known as Father Jessu, he then drives the supplies — cooking oil, floor, wheat, medicine, sanitizers and water — out to people hit hard by the lockdown measures.

On March 24, the Indian government imposed the countrywide lockdown. As of May 12, the virus has killed 2,294 people and infected more than 70,000 people in the country of 1.2 billion population.

Father Jessu — who works as a director of the church-run Dharmapuri Social Service Society —initially sensed trouble when he was at a Caritas India seminar in the capital New Delhi focusing on cancer survivors on Feb. 11. There, he came to know how the coronavirus that originated from China was fast spreading to neighboring countries.

The priest likewise became conscious of what measures were needed to prevent the spread of the virus and he began looking at ways how he could help his area deal with this new threat.

“It was February when I started purchasing masks and distributing them among the people who work in crowded spaces,” Father Jessu told

“Then, I went from school to school, providing awareness to students about the precautionary measures required to be taken to keep the virus at bay,” he said.

“It was like preparing the ground for a major battle,” he said.

Jonaamma, a volunteer with the church’s social service wing, told that most of the locals back in February were surprised to see the priest distributing masks and spreading awareness about the coronavirus.

“We had heard about the virus in the news, but father was impressing upon us to start a response strategy while others had not thought about it. That month we had seminars, awareness camps and roadshows,” Jonaamma said.

“And then massive relief work was initiated in April,” he added.

A woman is given supplies from Father R. Jesudass at the head office of the church-run Dharmapuri Social Service Society. (Photo by Peeezada Ummer)

Since the lockdown began, local church efforts in Dharmapuri has reached out to more than 3,000 families. These are folks doing it tough because they have no means to earn a livelihood due to the lockdown measures.  

Onwards from April 2, helping people in the area affected by the lockdown has been a non-stop process. Each day Father Jessu, church volunteers and officials have been helping those most in need, which could also include migrant workers, Sri Lankan refugees and Leprosy patients.

Some of his team gather details of what is needed by whom and Father Jessu uses the information to gather supplies.

“I load the commodities into my vehicle and deliver them myself to the needy. Sometimes we have to trek for hours in treacherous terrain to deliver help, but all this is soul soothing,” he said.

Around a hundred families get direct help each day, he said.

“Helping the poor and needy gives me solace. I was born and raised in a poor family and I’m aware of the hardships that poverty brings.”

Father Jessu’s father sold the family’s land so his children could have an education and the chance of a better life.

“We were five brothers and a sister in our family. Our father wanted to provide us quality education,” said Father Jessu.

In 2004, he was ordained a Catholic priest. His primary objective has always been helping the poor and needy.

“This is the work of God. I have myself seen the hardships that come with poverty. The present time has given me the chance to help God’s creation with the best of my abilities,” Father Jessu said.  

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