Feeding needy opens Raj's teary eyes
IPSWICH businessman Raj Sharma has described it as the best moment of his life in Australia, and one of the most disturbing.
When Indian Mehfil restaurant in Ipswich fed more than 170 needy - and in many cases destitute - people for free on Christmas Day it opened owner Mr Sharma's eyes to how many people are being left behind in modern Australia.
The restaurant had 70 people dine in and gave out 100 takeaways.
The stories told to Mr Sharma and his staff were harrowing and moving.
But they also made him realise that compassion and a giving spirit are more rewarding than financial gain.
"Every person we spoke to had a disturbing story," Mr Sharma said.
"There was a young guy who was 23 and he has lived all his life on the streets.
"His mother was raped, his father was in jail and he had been put in foster care...and then he was raped as well.
"His story was very disturbing.
"He cried when he was talking to us, as did a lot of people on that day. They were crying and hugging.
"It was a very touching moment for us.
"I would not have thought that a western country like this would have so many people in this situation.
"I went home and I couldn't sleep that night, because these people are a neglected part of our society."
Mr Sharma had spoken of his Christmas Day intentions in the QT before the event.
As a result, there were many in the community who wanted to assist, and did, in a variety of ways.
"I would like to thank the Ipswich community because there were over 100 people who asked if they could volunteer on the day," he said.
"But because of insurance I was not able to take volunteers.
"The Ipswich people sent in so many gifts to give out - whether it be purses, clothes or hats.
"That just warmed my heart.
"When we gave them out the people were crying."
Mr Sharma said his experience taught him that, as a society, we need to show more care and compassion.
He said it also made him realise that those who find themselves in dire straits could be any age.
"There were a lot of older people," Mr Sharma said.
"There was one lady who has three kids and she said had not seen them in 13 years.
"They had not come to visit.
"She held my wife and she did not want to let her go."
The day was also an opportunity for those who were fed to share their own stories, sad as many were, with each other.
It was an opportunity for fellowship they would not have otherwise had on Christmas Day.
"We joined the tables together so that 12 people could sit together and talk to each other," Mr Sharma said.
"It was great to see."
TV networks had wanted to take vision on the day but Mr Sharma had given his word before the event that there would be no photos taken for the media, to protect the privacy and dignity of those in attendance.
Mr Sharma, who came to Australia after playing first class cricket in India, is a successful businessman.
But he said no amount of financial success could compare to his experience on December 25, 2016 in Ipswich.
"It was the best moment of my journey in Australia," he said.
"I have no words to describe it."