It was in 2005, that The Akshaya Patra Foundation began feeding children in the city of Mangalore in the district of Dakshina Kannada. At that time children from two schools enjoyed the hot nutritious mid-day meals. As the word-of-mouth began to spread, more schools in the region wanted the mid-day meals served by the Foundation. In spite of challenges related to space and technology, the Akshaya Patra kitchen began functioning to the maximum capacity by feeding more than 5,000 children. It involved a lot of man power. In about a year’s time, in 2006-2007, The Akshaya Patra Foundation shifted its kitchen to another rented space. The shift ensured that a few of the processes could be mechanised and today the kitchen is a semi-automated one.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation at Mangalore feeds more than 25,000 children in 145 schools. The Unit President, Sri Karunya Sagar Dasa, says, “We reach out to schools in a radius of 30 Kms. Schools in Talapady, Mulki and even to B C Road in the neighbouring district of Bantwal. The menu consists of boiled rice, sambar , rasam, tomato rice, pulao and sweets like payasa.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation being sensitive to the needs of the regional palate includes the traditional food of each region in its mid-day meal menu. In the coastal region of Karnataka boiled rice is the staple diet. To feed the thousands of children, Akshaya Patra’s kitchen in Mangalore cooks rice in about 20 cycles and sambar in 3 cycles. This involves the workers to come as early as 4:00 a.m., and if there is payasa on the menu, they have to come an hour earlier. In spite of the early working hours, the employees who work at the kitchen do not complain. They say, “We understand that our work helps thousands of children.”
Ratna J Suvarna, an employee who has been with Akshaya Patra for over six years says, “As I live on the banks of the Gurupur river, I have to come by boat which runs at half-hour intervals. As I climb from the boat, I am greeted by many children who go to the local government schools and all that they ask me is about the menu of the day since they know that I work for Akshaya Patra.”
Today as thousands of children relish the mid-day meal and talk about it at their homes, the good word about the contribution by the Foundation has reached far and wide. Schools from places like Udupi and Moodabidri have requested The Akshaya Patra Foundation serve mid-day meals in their schools. But due to constraints of space and also Government permission, the kitchen has not been able to support the request. As in the words of Karunya Sagar Dasa, “Our immediate need is a sanction from the Government for allotment of a land so that we can build a three-tier centralised kitchen capable of feeding more than 100,000 children.”
*Statistics as of July 12, 2012