STONEHAM, MA– Why Akshaya Patra? Boston-area volunteers, who have helped raise millions of dollars for Akshaya Patra, explain why they support the world’s largest NGO-run school meal program. On Friday, April 28, over 500 business, non-profit, government and philanthropic leaders are expected to attend Akshaya Patra Foundation’s 11th Annual Boston Gala at the Boston Marriott Cambridge in Cambridge, MA.
“Akshaya Patra’s mission is simple, bring hot lunches to school so children will attend school. If their bellies are full, they will learn. I love this simple concept and is one of the reasons I am so passionate about this organization,” explains Yoshika Sherring.
For over 11 years, a committed group of Boston volunteers have supported and sustained the Akshaya Patra Foundation’s school meal program.
The Boston Volunteer Chapter is led by the Chapter Committee Co-Chairs—Bela Chandhok, Ravi Sakhuja, Rakesh Kamdar, Urvashi Bhatia, Rajeev Jain, and Rekha Gopalan—and supported by the Committee Members. The Chapter Committee Members are Dr. Apurv Gupta, Dr. Megha Scarff, Dr. Vinay Kumar, Santhana Krishnan, Mahesh Goyal, Dr. Smita Patel, Dr. Kanu
Patel, Rama Neti, Praveen Thailam, Rohil Chandhok, Ameeta Mehta, Priya Samant, Dr. Anand Kanjolia, Subhashish Acharya, Dr. Supria Rao, Dr. Manju Sheth, Jean Patel Bushnell, Ajita Bhat, Murli Kudlugi, Chandu Shah, Shridhar Kulkarni, Latha Mangipudi, Poonam Kamdar, Latha Rao, Sena Desai, Vikram Ahuja, Trupti Patel, Yoshika Sherring, Samantha, Shobha Donti, Namita Singh, Sundar Narasimhan, Deepa Jhaveri, Sowmya Suneel, and Parth Vedawala.
Established in 2000, Akshaya Patra began by serving 1,500 in 5 schools in Bangalore. Today Akshaya Patra is the largest NGO-run school meal programs in the world and serves over 1.6 million children daily in over 13,000 schools through 27 kitchens in eleven states in India. Akshaya Patra USA is the US branch of Akshaya Patra and raises funds and awareness for the school meal program in India through Volunteer Chapters in cities across the US. The Boston Volunteer Chapter is Akshaya Patra USA’s oldest Chapter and was established in 2006.
Many of the Boston volunteers have supported the organization since the Chapter began. Committee Co-Chair Ravi Sakhuja and his wife Rohini have supported Akshaya Patra for 11 years, and credit the organization’s scale and transparency for their loyal support.
One of Akshaya Patra’s celebrity supporters, Master Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, will be keynoting the Boston Volunteer Chapter’s 2017 Boston Benefit Gala on April 28th. Chef Kapoor created a video discussing why he supports Akshaya Patra:
For the Sakhujas and the rest of the Boston Chapter volunteers, the questions “Why Akshaya Patra?” is easily answered.
GENERATIONS GIVING BACK
For many volunteers, it is the ability to give back to the country of their origin. Drs. Atul and Ajita Bhat, “Akshaya Patra is a great organization – very efficient, honest and devoted to its purpose of educating impoverished kids through food. Akshaya Patra is one of the model nonprofit organizations in the world as it started with a few kids in 5 schools to expand over time to serve food and thus educate 1.6 million kids today. Being born and brought up in India, we feel responsible for the society there as well. We are blessed to be privileged and this is truly a nice way of giving back. Thanks to all its organizers, leaders, and volunteers all around the world for making this feat a success!”.
Other supporters have echoed their sentiments. “I, Shridhar Kulkarni, and my family, especially our daughter, Anusha Kulkarni, have been doing our tiny bit to help. Anusha was Youth Ambassador for Akshaya Patra couple of years ago and she did a music concert in Hubli, where Akshaya Patra has one of the largest kitchens, and raised Rs. 1.2 lacs. It was special for us because we are originally from Hubli. Being able to reconnect with the roots and being able to do our part in this larger endeavor felt special”.
Mr. Kulkarni’s daughter Anusha is a Youth Ambassador for Akshaya Patra USA. The Youth Ambassador Program is an elite program that empowers youth leaders to be advocates for their peers in India.
For parent volunteers, supporting Akshaya Patra affords them the opportunity to instill the principles of philanthropy and compassion in their children. Dr. Manju Sheth, host of India New England’s “Chai with Manju and a doctor with Lahey Health, said, “It has been my good fortune to be part of Akshya Patra family for about nine years. Akshaya Patra gives the gift of education wrapped in love and good values. It is very inspirational for our children as well as they learn the vital lesson of giving back in life.” Dr. Sheth’s daughter Shaleen is a Youth Ambassador, as well. Shaleen states, “It has been a totally enriching experience as a family for us. I would also like to mention that it been a joy to work with the phenomenal team behind this great institution. I wish them all the best!”
Priya Samant, repeated this message, saying, “Poverty has many effects. Malnutrition and access to education are some of them. I support Akshaya Patra because it is one such NGO that serves many effects of poverty through its mid-day meals program. Underprivileged kids get nutritious food while at school because of which enrollment rate is significant. Ability to attend school and have access to education will eventually help these kids uplift themselves from cycle of poverty. AP is also a great example for privileged kids to get involved in social causes early on in life via youth ambassador and youth club programs and learn to be more empathetic towards those less fortunate”.
Rakesh Kamdar and his family exemplify the impact that can be achieved when the whole family become involved in Akshaya Patra’s mission, “An organization that is providing mid-day meals to encourage children to attend the school, and help educate them to eradicate poverty for generations to come – this was a no-brainer for our family to understand and get involved. Akshaya Patra’s meals cost, nutrition and logistics are optimized to engage donors ranging from $15 to millions, and ages ranging from five years to 75+ years. My daughter, Poonam Kamdar, started with an innovative coin jar project to raise funds for AP. In 2012, she visited the kitchen in Gandhinagar and a nearby school and experienced the entire chain of events from raising money to serving food to children. She considers that as once in a life time experience.” Poonam’s Coin Jar Program was picked up in schools and temples in the Boston-area and across the United States.
Many youth supporters have continued to support Akshaya Patra. Rohil Chandhok began as an intern and Ambassador for Akshaya Patra and continued to fundraise for Akshaya Patra in college. Now a young professional, Rohil is now on the Boston Chapter Committee, “Growing up in the United States I never understood the true impact of food and education, in hindsight it was something my peers and I took for granted, always expecting food on the table and despising completing the next assignment. It is only now, as I have gotten older that I have been able to recognize and appreciate the importance of food security and education. No child should be deprived of food and education due to their socioeconomic status. Food and education empower a person to act on their own accord and improve their livelihood. Educating a child gives them the tools to succeed and exit the cycle of poverty. The fact that Akshaya Patra can provide such a great benefit to impoverished youth with such a small donation is what makes it the ideal organization to be a part of.”
INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN APPROACH
Many donors were impressed by Akshaya Patra’s kitchen facilities and their use of custom technology and mechanized processes to hygienically and freshly prepare 1.6 million meals daily. Rekha and Pramod Gopalan were invited to an Akshaya Patra gala many years ago by friends and have been ardent supporters ever since. They were impressed by the fact that the organization addresses childhood education and eliminating hunger—two causes that they are passionate about. Software engineers by profession, they were excited about the fact that Akshaya Patra applies technology at scale to solve one of India’s big social problems—keeping kids in school. Their son is a Youth Ambassador as well.
Trupti Patel was also impressed by the organization’s kitchen facilities, “When I first heard about AP several years ago, I was blown away with their novel idea. It was simple, yet it went a long way in helping malnourished children build their future. All based on common sense, that hunger prevents children from focusing, which in turn prevents them from striving and achieving. To actually have facilities making and providing nutritious meals consistently can eliminate the root of the several problems these children face each day, especially education. That is what AP represents and it has been a joy and honor to be part of this great cause.”
FOCUS AND MANAGEMENT EXCELLENCE
For other supporters, it was Akshaya Patra’s management excellence that appealed to them most. While other nonprofits have splintered their resources and efforts trying to provide multiple services to underserved populations, Akshaya Patra achieved scale by focusing on school meals.
Krishna and Latha Mangipudi travel from Nashua, New Hampshire to support the organization’s annual Boston benefit event. They said, “Akshaya Patra’s approach and laser-like focus to close the opportunity gap by making education accessible for the disfranchised children in urban and rural India is very unique. They have clearly identified the problem and its causes, and we have seen that their solution, which leverages public-private partnership, makes them successful. It is these characteristics, and the dedication of their volunteers that have made Akshaya Patra dear to us. We have been involved with Akshaya Patra in USA and in India since 2007. During a two year stay in India, we worked closely with the kitchens in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam and Kakinada. We have also visited kitchens in Vrindavan and Mangalore and schools that they serve. We have seen the positive impact that this organization has had in the children’s lives. We consider it an honor to serve alongside such dedicated people.”
The excellence of Akshaya Patra’s model has been recognized worldwide. Most recently Akshaya Patra was awarded the 2016 Kalam Innovation in Governance Award and was ranked the among the Top 500 NGOs in the world by the NGO Advisor in 2016. Its recognized achievements have drawn supporters. Akshaya Patra’s Ameeta and Anjan Mehta agreed, stating, “We saw a worthy cause with an emotional appeal. Providing food and education are grassroots efforts with such resonating and tangible results. Anjan and I are humbled by Akshaya Patra and its achievements. We feel proud to be a part of this exceptional effort”.
FOOD, EDUCATION, AND THE END OF POVERTY
For most of Akshaya Patra’s Boston-area supporters, it was the knowledge that their donations and efforts were doing more than just feeding a hungry child. By providing a school meal they were providing education, and thereby an escape from poverty.
“The cause is very huge – almost infinite – it helps not only feed the hungry child but make them literate so they can reach their goals in life. This will have further impact on society – better education leads to better quality of life. The best part is that most of the donation goes to the needy,” said Drs. Smita and Kanu Patel.
Murali and Mamta Kudlugi were also drawn to Akshaya Patra because of the impact it had on poverty, “We strongly believe that education is the best way to bring a child out of poverty and we are deeply appreciative of what Akshaya Patra is doing in improving the lives of so many children in India. We are happy to be supporting this great cause.”
“Food is a basic necessity and every child has the right to a nutritious meal,” says Bela Chandhok and Vinay Kumar, “Akshaya Patra mid-day meal entices children to go to school. Education empowers children to stand up for themselves and helps break the cycle of poverty. When a child attends school it gives them a chance to experience a normal childhood. That’s the reason I got attracted to Akshaya Patra”.
Naga & Shoba Donti believe that education is essential for a person’s well-being, “We would like to thank Akshaya Patra for providing the meals that draw children to schools. An educated and well fed child is a happy and productive child.” Vikram Ahuja agreed, saying, ““Akshaya Patra feeds, cares and curates the experience for kids in need and helps them reach their full future potential”.
For Nidhi and Ashwani Singhal, Akshaya Patra had the power to do more than just break the cycle of poverty, it had the power to help an entire nation progress, “We have been a part of Akshaya Patra for few years now. We have seen the commendable progress it has made over the years as it narrows the gap between poverty and education. By providing children with nutritious food, the organization gives them a better chance of succeeding in school and takes the first step towards removing them from the poverty cycle. Akshaya Patra not only helps to brighten the future of these children but also the future of our country. We are proud to be a small piece of an outstanding cause!”
Urvashi Bhatia and Dr. Sushil Bhatia, said “I believe that healthy, happy and knowledgeable children are essential for prosperity and progress. Akshaya Patra’s focus on food and education goes a long way towards helping to achieve that.” Rajeev and Ashoo Jain summarized, stating, “Education changes life, it did for us. Thanks, Akshaya Patra, for doing what they are doing and doing it so well.”
AKSHAYA PATRA BOSTON BENEFIT GALA
Akshaya Patra has been holding benefit galas in Boston for the past 10 years. For Mahesh Goyal one of these events was his first exposure to the organization’s incredible mission, “I was not aware of Akshaya Patra foundation couple of years ago. A year ago, I was invited by one of our family friend to an event organized by the foundation. I was very much pleased by a well-organized event, and even more with the subject of the event. As Akshaya Patra stands for food provided to underprivileged kids, but only with a small favor so that the kids will attend school. Thus ” Food for education”. I was very much impressed with how many kids were being served in several States in India. As such I decided to become a volunteer and help the organization in any role which is available for me.”
The Boston Volunteer Chapter will be holding its 11th Annual Benefit Gala on Friday, April 28th at the Cambridge Marriott Boston. Chef Sanjeev Kapoor will be the event’s keynote speaker. HGTV and Food Network interior designer Taniya Nayak will serve as the Master of Ceremonies. The event will be held at the Cambridge Marriott Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and will begin with a welcome reception. Over 500 business, non-profit, government, and philanthropic leaders from around the region are expected to attend and raise funds for Akshaya Patra’s school meal program. As longtime supporter Dr. Megha Scarff succinctly put it, “Akshaya Patra’s success is Humanity’s success!”.