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MILPITAS, California — The Bay Area chapter of Akshaya Patra hosted Sanjeevani Bhelande, award-winning playback singer and winner of Sa Re Ga Ma Season One Aug. 12 evening at the India Community Center here.
Akshaya Patra, a non-profit organization, runs the world’s largest mid-day meal program in collaboration with 14 state governments in India. It serves nutritious mid-day meals to 1.8 million government school kids six days a week.
Siva Sivaram, chairman of Akshaya Patra USA told India Currents: “ Its good to see people back in 3D. Both in India and in the US, we are doing a lot. In US, Akshaya Patra is going from being a concentrated West Coast-East Coast oriented, high network individual based, to truly a grassroots organization. We have over 60 chapters across the US. We are seeing young people getting involved and its very gratifying to see that Akshya Patra is truly becoming a grassroots organization.”
Sivaram is president of Silicon Technology of Western Digital Corp, Technology and Strategy.
“During the Covid pandemic, we could not serve in the kitchens in India but we continued to distribute boxes of uncooked meals to the children and their families,” said Sivaram. “Now, the existing kitchens are ramping up rapidly and new kitchens are expanding everywhere. From Andhra Pradesh to Assam, a whole spade of kitchens are coming up. We will have the capacity of reaching two million children very very quickly.”
“The concern from commitment to the cause is that we cannot fail a child and we have to ensure that there is ongoing funding for the various initiatives,” he added.
Experimentation on the size of the kitchens is in the works, and smaller sized kitchens that are hybrid in their functioning is happening, noted Sivaram.
Local people, especially women partaking in the final part of meal preparation to cook to cater to local palates is the principle behind this pilot. Greater demand from state governments in India also shows the success of the program. And the recent inauguration of the Varanasi kitchen by Prime Minister Modi is a big accolade for the non-profit that prides in maintaining highest quality standards in meal preparations.
Speaking about another pilot in the state of Tamil Nadu where it was not easy for the non profit to penetrate because of politics, Sivaram said that it is very gratifying to see that not only has the state government opened to the non profit, but has also endorsed a new program of providing nutritious breakfasts instead of lunch as the meal for young children.
“The mid day meal program in Tamil Nadu had become moribund and the breakfast pilot is an attempt to bring back the true spirit of providing a hearty and healthy meal to the youngsters before they can begin their school day,” added Sivaram.
Later while addressing the gathering, he said: “Akshaya Patra is a passion project for us. Its not just another charity where you can give, but something that comes from the heart. With $20, you can feed a child for a whole year.”
“We aim to reach 5 million children by 2025 and we cannot fail the big asset that India has: its children. India is a nation of great contrasts. Akshaya Patra runs as an enterprise with the heart of a non profit.
“Outside of India, the US is the biggest contributor of Akshya Patra and Bay Area is the biggest region in the US in terms of contributions. We wish to continue being that beacon of hope for the children of India,” said Sivaram.