For the longest time I have been intrigued by the work done by The Akshaya Patra Foundation (TAPF). Striving to address the issue of “classroom hunger” and promote “education” by providing nutritious meals to children in Government and Government-aided schools, their journey began in 2000, with the feeding of 1,500 children in 5 schools in Bengaluru. Today, they reach 13,210 schools, feeding over 1.65 million children every day in 11 states through their 27 kitchens.
An opportunity to visit and experience their Surat kitchen first hand, seemed like an interesting proposition. At the crack of dawn, one morning, I set out, as the operations in the kitchen begin really early and in order to see the work force in action, one had to get there early.
The sheer scale of operations was mesmerizing. I had expected to see a big kitchen yes, but certainly not of this magnitude. I was awestruck with the hygiene, cleanliness and state-of-the-art equipment. The work force seemed well-trained and were seamlessly carrying out their work. I was impressed by the fact that practices like daily shower, use of clean uniforms, caps to cover the hair, face masks to cover the mouth and nose area, gloves, gumboots, other protective gears and hand sanitisation are mandatory.
A strict kitchen process is observed which includes certain mandatory routines to be followed by each member of the kitchen staff. Food Safety Management Systems are implemented in all the kitchens be it centralised or decentralised, in order to handle, prepare and deliver food. All kitchens run by the organisation follow a scheduled menu. All cauldrons, trolleys, rice chutes, dal/sambar tanks, cutting boards, knives and other instruments in these units are sanitised before usage every single day. All vessels used in the kitchens are made of food safe stainless steel of 304 Grade which is capable of enduring high levels of temperature for long intervals.
Akshaya Patra is one of the best examples of PPP (Public Private Partnership) model, where Central Government, State Governments, Corporates and individual donors contribute to the cause, and the Mid-Day Meal Programme of the Government is successfully implemented through the efficient workmanship of Akshaya Patra.
The pre-production begins as early as 2-3 am in the morning, when vegetables, grains and other ingredients for that day’s meal are readied. The cooking process begins a bit later and the mid-day meals are ready to go out to schools carried by the special vans by 8.30-9 am.
The roti-making machine in particular seemed fascinating. The manner in which the dough is made, rolled out in sheets, cut into circular rotis, cooked and even smeared with ghee before getting into the containers is a treat to watch and inspiring.
Similarly I was enthralled by the manner in which large vessels were used to cook rice and pulao with steam. The attention to detail by the work force is praiseworthy as is their dedication.
Standardisation of recipes is an important factor while maintaining high levels of nutrition along with taste and TAPF strictly follows this. In order to achieve these levels, a well-structured Quality Assurance programme is implemented at all stages of Operations— Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production.
Watching the meal being prepared was captivating enough, but equally gratifying was a visit to the School no. 301, Shree Purushottam Ji Prathmik Shala, Punagam, Surat. The meals arrived piping hot to the school in the special vans and were lovingly served by volunteers under the supervision of the Principal Chaya Ma’am and her team of teachers.
Girls and boys queued in a disciplined manner to avail of the meals in steel thalis. The kabuli chana pulao and dal was the meal for that day, as the menu changes daily. I spoke to several children independently and discovered that they enjoyed this meal even more than what they ate at home and looked forward to it each day. What’s more, I sampled the meal myself and could vouch for the quality and taste.
The teachers informed me that they have never faced any quality issues with the meals. The meals are first tasted by the teachers before being served to the children. The meal quantity too is sufficient to feed all the children to their heart’s content.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation is continuously leveraging technology to cater to millions of children. In partnership with the Government of India and various State Governments and the inestimable support from many philanthropic donors and well-wishers, Akshaya Patra has grown. Today, Akshaya Patra Foundation is the world’s largest (not-for-profit run) mid-day meal programme serving wholesome food to over 1.6 million children in 26 locations across 11 states in India
By leveraging the unique resources of the organisation, Akshaya Patra is all geared to fulfil its mission of ‘feeding 5 million children by 2020.’
As I stepped out of their Surat kitchen, having witnessed the painstaking operations by the dedicated work force, I had a silent prayer on my lips. I earnestly wish that they are able to reach their goals soon and in future, every hungry child in India is well-fed so that education is not an option, but a priority.