In Malaybari, a village in Sonapur district, about 40 km from Guwahati city, three young orphan girls call the local police for help as they have skipped two meals in a row due to the lockdown. The police in turn reach out to the Akshaya Patra kitchen at Guwahati. Within an hour, the Akshaya Patra team is at the girls’ home with hot meals and groceries.
Akshaya Patra, which runs the world’s largest school meal programme, has fed lakhs of poor families across India during weeks of lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus. By 16 May, Bengaluru-headquartered Akshaya Patra completed five crore servings of meals in a span of 50 days.
From Surat to Bhilai, Mangalore to Mathura, the goal at Akshaya Patra was to ensure no one went hungry due to the lockdown, its vice-chairman Chanchalapathi Dasa said. “We believe in the power of collective social responsibility and collaborative action during these tough times with the active support of the Central and state governments and the corporate sector," he said.
Thousands of volunteers began working from 25 March when India went into lockdown to package the food and ensure timely distribution to migrant workers, orphanages, old age homes, and those stranded in various parts of the country.
Its six-sigma-certified kitchens across Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Dadra, Nagar and Haveli, Delhi and NCR, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh have been cooking food. “In Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, though the kitchens were being readied, existing structures and resources are being used to distribute food relief kits to the vulnerable population. The contents of these food relief kits are based on the local palate of the region with each kit having dry ration," said a senior official at Akshaya Patra.
All cauldrons, trolleys, knives and kitchen equipment is completely sanitised before the cooking process begins every day at the fully mechanised kitchens. “During the lockdown period the meals/rations had to be distributed in far flung areas. We sterilized all vessels and equipment till the last mile," he said.
The 20-year-old organization has stepped in to feed the hungry during the floods in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, during drought in Rajasthan and Karnataka as well as the 2015 earthquake in Nepal but covid-19 has so far been it biggest relief endeavour so far, said Chanchalapathi Dasa.