A secular effort to ensure that no child goes hungry’
Widows being given a mid-day meal prepared by Akshaya Patra kitchen under a tie up with 'Maitri' as a pilot project in an ashram in Vrindavan.
Akshaya Patra kitchen supplies mid-day meals to over 1,500 government schools. “The food has come,” children shout in a chorus as they spot a blue van come to a halt outside their school gate. The van delivers their mid-day meal for many it is the only decent food they get to eat. The 200-odd children at this government-recognised primary school Madrasa Anjuman Islamia School at Sadar Bazaar are too young to understand the effort that goes into the one meal they get in school.
All they know is that the blue and grey van brings food for them. Several innocently said they could do with some biscuits, chocolates, Maggi noodles and ice cream too. The vans, zipping past the streets of the holy town of Vrindavan and adjoining areas, belong to Akshaya Patra kitchen, founded by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), that supplies food to over 1,500 government schools here under the Centre's ambitious Mid-day Meal Programme.
These include Madrasas recognised by the State government. "Ours is a truly secular effort to ensure that no child goes hungry," says Prabhu Madhuvrat Dasa of Akshaya Patra, that started the programme in Vrindavan in 2004. Converted into a state-of-the art kitchen in 2009, it feeds more than 1.5 lakh children everyday. The kitchen, the second of its kind after Bangalore, employs 5,000 men and about 30 women for the entire exercise, which begins at 2 a.m. when the food is prepared.The last van leaves the kitchen at 6.30 a.m. Most of the processes are automatic to ensure quality and hygiene, including grinding of spices.
The menu includes dal, subzi, khichi, chawal, kheer, pulao and rotis, supplied in rotation. The roti-maker can churn out 40,000 rotis an hour. "While Akshaya Patra kitchen in Bangalore primarily makes rice, we had to introduce the roti maker here, which was a challenge in itself," says Prabhu Madhuvrat Dasa. "I came here as a mechanic from Rajpura in Punjab to repair a machine and liked the concept and institution so much that I decided to stay back," Balwinder Singh told The Hindu.
His work starts in the kitchen at 1 a.m. with switching on the roti making system and he is free by 5 a.m., but he has no complaints. "I have visited many schools where food is supplied and I feel so happy when children say they enjoy it." The government provides ration (100 gm per child per meal at the primary level and 150 gm per meal per child for upper primary students) through the Food Corporation of India, and cash subsidies take care of 60 per cent of the cost. The Akshaya Patra takes care of the rest by way of donations.
The organisation owns the land and infrastructure, which includes a fleet of 30 vans. "We encourage the children to take food home when the attendance in a school is thin, due to rain or some local festival, so that their siblings or parents can also eat," says Nirma Jain, who teaches in a Madrasa. Most of the children here are from poor families and come to school after having only a cup of tea. "I have seen children growing healthier and more attentive ever since Akshaya Patra started supplying meals here," Ms. Jain said. She has been working here for the past seven years. A state-of-the-art kitchen now, it feeds more than 1.5 lakh chidren everyday A fleet of 30 vans deliver the meal to the schools.