Akshaya Patra Foundation talks about the COVID-19 Feeding initiative

Akshaya Patra Foundation talks about the COVID-19  Feeding initiative

The coronavirus pandemic had wreaked havoc in the lives of many people. Due to the lockdown that followed lives of daily wagers was impacted the maximum. During this time, it was mostly the NGO that helped getting food to such household. 

Mumbai Live spoke to Shridhar Venkat, CEO, The Akshaya Patra Foundation to understand the initiatives taken during the pandemic and the way forward. Excerpts: 

The COVID-19 Feeding initiative by the Foundation is commendable, can you give some information about the Maharashtra numbers?

Akshaya Patra has been undertaking COVID-19 food relief in Pune, Mumbai, Thane, Nagpur, Nasik and Aurangabad. Our teams in Maharashtra have been working with the State Government and civic body administrations to provide freshly cooked meals and food relief kits with essential groceries to vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic. Since we began our relief initiative in March 2020, we have served over 43.80 lakh cumulative meals in the state in the form of freshly cooked meals, food relief kits and Happiness Boxes.

With school closures due to the pandemic disrupting the education sector, we seek to take education and nutrition to our beneficiaries' doorstep through Happiness Boxes. These boxes contain essential groceries, hygiene products and activity books to uphold their Right to Food and Right to Education. We have distributed over 34,000 Happiness Boxes (amounting to 6.85 lakh meal servings) in Pune, Thane and Nagpur as of 2nd February 2021.

Overall, we have served over 114 million meals in various locations across 18 states and two union territories. These include 60 million freshly cooked meals, 10.09 lakh food relief kits amounting to over 41 million meals servings and 6.42 lakh Happiness Boxes to MDM beneficiaries amounting to over 12 million meal servings as of 2nd February 2021. Also, in Mumbai, we distributed 71,780 meal kits to migrant workers on shramik trains during the lockdown in June 2020.

What made the Foundation to start this initiative?

At Akshaya Patra, we have always believed in the power of collective action and endeavoured to support the Government’s humanitarian efforts during natural disasters by using our kitchen infrastructure and resources to provide food relief. In the past, we have undertaken relief feeding in several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and even in Maharashtra, when the districts of Sangli and Kolhapur were affected by floods in 2019. With the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in food insecurity, leaving millions of people without any access to food, we reoriented our kitchen infrastructure to undertake food relief across the country. Our past experience was of great help in the swift mobilisation of resources and we were able to contribute to the food and nutrition security of millions of people from vulnerable communities.

Is the Feeding activity concentrated closer to TAPF kitchens or did the Foundation set-up a temporary kitchen to do so?

Our centralised kitchens enable us to feed over 1.8 million children every day as a part of the Government of India’s Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme. During the pandemic, these kitchens served as the focal points for our food relief initiative. Fresh meals were cooked at these kitchens and served to people in areas assigned by the administration. However, with increasing food and nutrition insecurity, we felt the need to go beyond cooked meals to provide essential groceries to people in need. Therefore, we set up temporary centres where food relief kits were packed for distribution. In fact, we even undertook relief feeding in states like Punjab and West Bengal, where we don’t have any existing kitchen infrastructure. In these states, relief feeding was extended from the nearest kitchen in the neighbouring state.

How is this initiative funded?

The success, effective implementation and scalability of our food programmes can be attributed to the synergy of our Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. Working with Governments, individual donors and corporate partners, we have been able to undertake food assistance on a massive scale, serving cooked meals and distributing food relief kits to vulnerable populations in 18 states and two union territories. In this initiative, we have had the proactive support of our donors and well-wishers, right from corporates such as Amazon, DLF Foundation, Nestle India and PepsiCo Foundation to individuals such as Smt. Sudha Murthy and Shri. Narayan Murthy. Their support has been instrumental in contributing to the effectiveness of our food assistance endeavour, helping us serve 11.4 crore cumulative meals to the affected people.

With the Foundation celebrating 20 years what are the future plans for Maharashtra?

 As the implementing partner of the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Programme, we are committed to the responsibility of providing wholesome meals to children of our country. We are currently operating three kitchens in Maharashtra (Nagpur, Thane and Pune), serving over 35,000 children.

In addition, we have set up two state-of-the-art centralised kitchens in Bhiwandi and Panvel. The kitchen in Bhiwandi will serve 25,000 meals and the kitchen in Panvel will serve 10,000 meals every day. Both the kitchens will begin operations as soon as the schools reopen. We have also started the construction of a new kitchen in Kalyan. It is likely to be completed by April 2021. This kitchen will serve 10,000 children of Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation schools.

We are thankful to the Ministry of Education, the Government of India, and the Government of Maharashtra for providing us with the opportunity to serve these children. We will continue to work with the Government of Maharashtra to provide nutrition support to children in the state.

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