Spread over seven states and 22 cities and districts, Annamitra Foundation has been providing midday meals to government and non-government aided schools for almost two decades now.
Radha Krishna Prabhu, pioneer of the foundation, says its root lies with the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Prabhu says their ultimate goal is to increase enrolment in schools and to ensure that no child is deprived of education due to poverty and hunger. The foundation was started in 2004 by Prabhu, along with like-minded fellow members of ISKCON.
Taking us back in time, Prabhu says the genesis of the foundation dates back to 1974, when Srila Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON, noticed a group of village children fighting with street dogs over scraps of food. Troubled by what he saw, he instructed his disciples to make sure that no individual within a ten-mile radius of ISKCON temples remains hungry. In line with his objective and being inspired by his vision, the Government of India launched the Midday Meal Scheme on August 15, 1995, following which the ISKCON Food Relief Foundation decided to support needy children by providing them with the right nutrition to supplement their education, and in turn help fight two of the most pressing problems of India: Malnutrition and illiteracy.
“Our journey started from preparing one-time meal for students of a Parel-based school. Back then, we had to cook the meals at our temple kitchen at Chowpatty. Today, we distribute 12 lakh meals per day to different schools across the country,” informs Radha Krishna Prabhu.
After the foundation launched its maiden kitchen in April, 2004, similar kitchens were started in three other locations in the same year. By 2006, the foundation had eight kitchens operating in different states of the country and at present, more than 6,500 schools are beneficiaries of the meals from the foundation.
“To look at the broader picture, hunger and malnourishment lead to reduced school attendance and educational milestones leading to lower literacy among poor students. People with undernourishment in their early years have been noticed to be under-performers in education and career over the years. Furthermore, studies have identified that malnourishment leads to grade failure as well,” Prabhu shares.
Prabhu explains that the risk of mortality are significantly higher for children who are malnourished. Sometimes, deficiencies of nutrients such as zinc, iron or vitamins can increase the risk of death or other serious ailments. In addition, malnourishment among children can have severe consequences in their long term development.
Since 2004, the foundation has received enormous support from state and central government, which further helped the foundation spread their wings throughout the country. Some significant partners of the organisation include Government of India, West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education, Government of Rajasthan and Government of Andhra Pradesh.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee was also one of the supporters of the cause. When the pandemic hit India last year, Prabhu says his Foundation, which already has a mega kitchen, reached out to frontline workers, to distribute food. “Till date, we have fed thousands of Covid patients, frontline workers, and family members of the patients,” Prabhu adds.
The Foundation received tremendous support for the cause during the pandemic from various sources. “Our objective had three aspects — we had people with expertise in cooking, we needed volunteers to be on the ground, and we needed the support of corporates who were able to sponsor the initiative since it was going to be a long affair,” he said.
For the work Annamrita Foundation did during the pandemic, it received a token of appreciation from the Governor of Maharashtra, Bhagat Singh Koshyari.
Apart from the midday meal initiative, the foundation also has multiple programmes like Municipal Feeding Programme, which covers people dedicated to the service of public health, social justice, solid waste management, etc; the Food for Life programme, which covers the underprivileged communities living on streets and slums; Annamitra Karuna Hospital Programme for medical staff and healthcare workers associated with Covid-19 management; the Tithi Bhoj, which provides food to the underprivileged communities during special occasions, and the Khichdi Drive, under which the foundation hosts khichdi tasting at corporate offices — here, employees get to taste the khichdi, which is being served to the children across schools.