SAN MATEO, Calif. — “We must believe that if a child anywhere in India or anywhere in the world is hungry and doesn’t have a future, we have no future because that child is our child,” said T.V. Mohandas Pai, co-founder of Akshaya Patra India, at the organization’s 2015 Bay Area Benefit Event held Sept. 20 at the Marriott Hotel here.
Revealing the foundation’s wish to wind up the program in 2030, Pai said, “We decided two years ago that we are going to stop Akshaya Patra in 2030,” adding that “people are very surprised about why are we closing, but we said if we don’t set a date when we are going to close and hope that this misery is going to end, there is no hope for anyone… We are going to work with the government to solve this.”
A banquet hall full of nearly 400 donors and supporters passionate about the organization’s dual mission of food and education opened their hearts and wallets, contributing $300,000 to the program’s deserving cause.
The event began with a welcome note by B.V. Jagadeesh, an Indian American board member of Akshaya Patra, followed by an address by the chief guest, Arvind Gupta, head of technology of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“Their kitchens are very impressive, but you have to see the whole supply chain. From the kitchen to the school, when the children consume, Akshaya Patra has really transformed the kids’ experience to going to school,” Gupta told the audience.
“The prime minister talks about three important things; skills, scale and speed, and I think all the e-commerce companies in India that are valued at billions can learn from Akshaya Patra,” he said. “The scale in which they are doing, the speed and food has to reach in time… and, of course, the skills which it is imparting so it really ties in with the vision of the government.”
Gupta also talked about some of the other initiatives that the government was contemplating in association with Akshaya Patra, like using their kitchen facilities to provide food on trains.
Akshaya Patra is the world’s largest NGO-run school meal program and a five-time winner for excellence in financial reporting by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.
The nonprofit has scaled rapidly over the 15 years since its inception — from serving 1,500 children a day in 2000 to 1.4 million children daily today in over 10,700 schools across ten states in 2015.
It now aims to serve lunches to five million kids daily by 2020.
Actor Omi Vaidya of “3 Idiots” fame served as the emcee for the event, and regaled the audience with his humor and Bollywood narratives while making interesting appeals for donation.
Another Akshaya Patra board member, Prabhakar “PK” Kalavacherla, introduced Pai on stage with interesting anecdotes from the co-founder’s life.
In addressing the gathering, Pai delivered an inspiring keynote talking about the core mission and activities of the organization and its vision to eradicate poverty in India.
Pai began by presenting facts about the correlation between malnourishment and school attendance and his association with the organization and how this journey has been a transforming experience for him.
Hunger is a deep-rooted issue that India still struggles with, Pai said. “India’s problem is the deep poverty that you have, the lack of delivery and the understanding of the scale and depth of this issue,” adding, “this problem can be solved if all citizens come together and participate and believe that every child is our child.”
Speaking about the group’s expansion plans, Pai told India-West: “We want to reach 5 million so possibly we will expand to Patna in Bihar, to Banaras in U.P., in Rajasthan we will expand it wherever we can.”
Noting the difference the program had made to the lives of the less privileged, Pai said, “We made a study whereby we found that the children have grown taller, heavier and their nutritional level has gone up and malnutrition has come down by 8-10 percent.”
Emily Rosenbaum, CEO of Akshay Patra USA, shared stories of hope and heartwarming anecdotes from her recent India trip where she interacted with the low-income government school children who benefit from the scheme.
According to the foundation, the cost of feeding one low-income child for an entire academic year is about $15. The Indian government provides a partial subsidy for each meal and the remaining funds come from donors and supporters.
The hallmark of the Akshaya Patra program are its centralized kitchen facilities that have been designed and engineered from scratch to optimize quality and minimize cost, time and labor.
“We are trying to use technology in the education space to scale up quality education,” Gupta told India-West.
“The schools that don’t have teachers in rural areas can be taught by schools in the city… that requires good connectivity, and we are working on that... Financial inclusion, healthcare, education and how urban facilities need to be provided to rural India, that is part of the dream of Digital India,” Gupta said.
According to Geeta Kulkarni, director of development for the West Coast, “The Bay Area goal is to reach $500,000, and we are open to corporate giving drives.” (For more information, Kulkarni can be reached at 408-209-8368 and at email@example.com.)
Attendees also enjoyed a classical music performance by young artists like vocalist Preeti Tamhankar and tabla player Tejas Venkateswaran, who were accompanied by Manoj Tamhankar on the harmonium.
The evening also saw a silent auction where items like a 49’ers vs Falcons tickets and a signed football by 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaeperick were auctioned.
Visit http://www.foodforeducation.org/ for more information.