The heart and soul behind feeding 12 lac children daily

Taking an early morning taxi through the hectic traffic of Mumbai, I arrived at the ISKCON – Annamrita kitchen at Tardeo for my most delicious morning yet! Annamrita, meaning “food as pure as nectar” is a scheme initiated by the ISKCON Food Relief Foundation. Working in collaboration with the Indian Government, they provide midday meal in schools across Maharashtra. An incentive designed not only to ensure that more children are receiving at least one decent, nutritious meal a day but also used as tool of motivation for attending school, helping children in both the present and the future!

42% of India’s children are malnourished and do not eat even one wholesome meal a day, making functioning at any level nearly impossible. These conditions push families into a culture that rearranges its priorities, from education to withdrawal from school at young ages in search of work or begging for food in order to live. Annamrita has formed to break this cycle of poverty and give children not only a midday meal but a chance and incentive to complete their schooling which will in turn create more opportunities for their future.

This Food Relief Foundation works to distribute nutritious and sanctified meals. Their careful consideration and planning ensures that each meal provides the prescribed daily nutritional requirements and is cooked in only the highest standards of hygiene. The planning includes a completely mechanized process to prepare the food – right from peeling and slicing of the vegetables right upto transferring the final meal into insulated travel containers. This is probably the only kitchen I know off where the food is literally never touched!

It’s also the only kitchen I know off which opens at the odd hour of 3 a.m. – as the food needs to reach the children for their 9:30-10am school break. I stood amongst the busy and focused team as they powered through their individual duties, perfectly in sync with each other. In quick succession, the food was being prepped, spiced, stirred, poured, packaged and loaded – and not being touched by hand at all!

With such a highly developed system, the efficiency levels are obviously incredible. Every hour 1,200 kilos of food are cooked in 4 massive steam-jacketed cauldrons at this one kitchen alone! Each cauldron is dispensed into 5 or 10 litre insulated stainless-steel containers, which are immediately sealed, tagged and locked – not to be open for any reason until arrival at their destination and ready for serving. The tagging helps teachers understand what is in the containers and they’ve been strictly instructed not to serve the food if the seals are not intact. Personally delivered by Annamrita’s drivers, meals arrive at schools punctually, ensuring no hungry belly is kept waiting.

What really took me aback was the cost of feeding a child. Thanks to the efficiency of the mechanized process, it takes just Rs. 900 to feed a child EVERY ACADEMIC DAY OF THE YEAR! So breaking it down, one meal is only Rs. 4.50, next to nothing for the fortunate but is the key to the future for so many young children across India.

Yet, this is no makeshift kitchen, cooking what they can for the needy. This a highly scientific kitchen, which works above and beyond industry standards. Already feeding 12 lac children daily, an incredible number by any standards, they yet want to take on more schools, as funds permit them to do so. After all, the exact same setup can be used to feed more children, so why not? After relishing a bowl of the day’s khichdi, I left the kitchen completely satisfied – not only by the tasty food but also by the love and devotion that so many people are giving to help the hungry!

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