ARCADIA, CA - On a beautiful summer evening on Aug 6, the air fragrant with flowers, around 200 people gathered here to celebrate Akshaya Patra serving 2 billion meals to hungry children in India. The benefit dinner was in honor of Manu and Rika Shah and their humanitarian efforts for providing food and education to children in India.
Akshaya Patra is the world’s biggest mid-day meal program serving 1.5 million meals to children in 10,600 government schools in 10 States in India via 22 centralized kitchens every day. The food is cooked, transported and served to schools in a radius of 60 kms. As part of a public private enterprise, the program feeds a child for $15 for the entire academic year.
The dinner was attended by Akshaya Patra’s strongest supporters from Los Angeles and Orange County.The evening began with an invocation dance by students of the Leela Institute, Maya Pimentel and Shruti Sharma.
Master of Ceremonies, Murli Tolani, a successful and accomplished former Chairman and CEO of MWH Global,Inc spoke eloquently about Akshaya Patra as he introduced keynote Vikram Gandhi to the stage. Gandhi is known for his documentary ‘Kumare.’ Gandhi spoke about his visit to Mathura for the HBO show ‘VICE’ and his views about education and how a organization like Akshaya Patra was necessary to feed children so they stayed in school.
Vandana Tilak gave a presentation about Akshaya Patra, talking about how the not- for- profit came into existence when priests saw children and dogs fighting over food in the trash outside the Bangalore ISKCON temple. The priests started with cooking for 1,500 children within 10 kms of the kitchen and the program took shape to build kitchens that could cook 100,000 meals in five hours. Akshaya means limitless and Patra means the food bowl. Unlimited food for growing children.
Akshaya Patra celebrates 2 billion meals served since inception this year. A small ceremony is planned in Bangalore with President of India, Pranab Mukherjee and central HRD Minister Prakash Javdekar.
In her presentation, Tilak gave updates about new kitchens and progress being planned for Akshaya Patra and the local LA Chapter.
Desh Deshpande, chairman of the Akshaya Patra Foundation USA flew in from Boston for the evening and spoke about the challenges of growth including sustaining new growth with 40 new kitchens in the pipeline over the next three years. He fielded questions from the audience. Tilak then invited Raj Shah to introduce his parents and the honorees for the evening, Manu and Rika Shah. In his words, his parents have always been there for their children.
Manu and Rika Shah, started their business from their apartment; persisted with hard work and tenacity and diligently built their business MS International directly supporting 120,000 Jobs all over the world”. Today MSI is the biggest natural stone wholesaler on the West Coast. Manu Shah related a story about a woman who stood on a seashore and threw starfish back into the water so they would live. When questioned how she could possibly save all of them and that it would not make much difference, she threw yet another one back into the ocean and said, it made a difference to that one! Manu Shah said he was one of those starfish and it was his mission to make sure he made that difference to as many people as he possibly could. Manu and Rika echoed their sentiments when they visited an Akshaya Patra school in Bangalore a year ago. Rika had tears in her eyes as she could see the children were hungry, they were so happy to get the food. The children’s parents were trash collectors, security people, nannies; people who used to take care of Manu and Rika’s families in India. Manu said it was now time to take care of their children, feed them a good meal and give it forward. He went on to say how much their early childhood prepared them for what was to come. They come from the small towns of Mundra and Mandvi in Gujarat where there is extreme poverty. Manu and Rika’s mothers were called Annapoorna, they were devoted to ensuring people young and old were fed. As a result of this early doctrine of empathy and love, Manu announced he was donating $1 Million dollars towards a new kitchen .The Bhuj kitchen would serve 50,000 children and utilizing it’s capacity to cook for more during an 8 hour cycle, the kitchen would do most of the food preparation for the spoke kitchen which would serve another 50,000 children in Mandvi and Mundra combined. The Anganwadi program that feeds children 0-5 years and lactating mothers would also be served by the same kitchen, thus feeding over 115,000 children daily.
The audience applauded them for their support, many had tears in their eyes .
Tilak then invited their sons Rup and Raj on stage as also their grand children Ryan, 10, and Sophie, 7, who came up, and spoke confidently and said they were proud to give their grandparents the award of Global Champions.
As Chapter Chair, Tilak thanked the Shah family for their dedication and unfaltering love for the children in India. Their gift would feed 23 million meals every year in Bhuj, Mandvi and Mundra. She thanked Harshada and Sanjay Kucheria for hosting the dinner at their house, the sponsors, including 3D Sound, Manohar’s Delhi Palace, the volunteers who made the evening possible and every single person in the audience who was there to make a difference.
During dinner, the audience had an impromptu performance by none other than Rajeev Satyal who had come as a guest and donor. Satyal had the audience laughing over his jokes about Indians and the current political situation. Akshaya Patra and Satyal gave the audience something to smile about as they headed home that evening.
For more info. about Akshaya Patra: www.foodforeducation.org