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For some children, the mid day meal is their only meal: Dhananjay Krishna Das, Annamrita

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Despite having a food wastage ratio of 40%, India has the largest number of malnourished kids. ISKCON Food Relief Foundation, branded as Annamrita, is a not-for-profit, non-religious, non-sectarian public charitable organization. It has been serving 1.2 million mid-day meals everyday through its 20 kitchens across India among their network of 6,500 schools. The organization has been at the helm of initiatives such as Zero Hunger Haryana which has received immense support from the government.

Dhananjay Krishna Das, Vice – Chairman, North India, Annamrita by ISKCON Food Relief Foundation shares his insights on how CSR can help eradicate malnutrition, and on their growing association with govt. schools in Haryana.

Malnutrition and hunger are often perceived as the same issue but they are actually vastly different. How would you explain the differences to a regular person?

Malnutrition and hunger, most of the times, are mentioned in the same breath, but they are not the same. A person who is getting ample food to survive can also be malnourished as he/she is not getting the required nutrition for the body’s requirement.

Hunger is a condition which begins with the lack of food but a person suffering from malnutrition lacks the nutrients, necessary for their bodies to grow and stay healthy. Malnutrition can affect someone’s physical as well as mental health. Someone on diet without any proper consultation can miss out on various important nutrients and hence suffer from malnutrition.

Why and when did ISKCON Food Relief become Annamrita?

We have recently changed the name to Annamrita as the word means ‘food as pure as nectar’; the food prepared in all our kitchens is cooked with utmost care, love and dedication, keeping in mind the fact that we are serving it to kids who are the future of our nation. The name of the foundation has been changed. We continue to uphold the same beliefs, and are tirelessly working towards the same mission and vision.

Give us insight into how Annamrita is working towards eradicating malnutrition.

As per the 2017 report by Assocham and Ernst & Young, India has the maximum number of malnourished children globally. About 37 per cent of children under-five are underweight, 39 per cent are stunted, 21 per cent are wasted and 8 per cent are severely acutely malnourished.

Annamrita addresses the issue by serving more than 1.2 million mid day meals everyday through its 20 kitchens across India among their network of 6,500 schools in the country. These meals are prepared with the highest standards of hygiene and quality ingredients that meet the nutritional requirements of growing children, as laid down by the Supreme Court of India.

With the philosophy of “No child goes hungry” in govt. schools allotted to Annamrita, we prepare hygienically cooked, healthy wholesome meals to needy children across seven states of India viz, Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Delhi, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

Which companies does your organization work closely with?

Some of the companies we closely work with are IOCL, Power Grid, Banks, Tata Group of Companies, Tourism Finance Corporation India Ltd. ONGC and YES Bank.

How can CSR be of help in ending malnutrition?

When a company associates with us for a CSR activity, they directly help in contributing towards eradicating malnutrition. We conduct a lot of corporate employee engagement programmes and give opportunity to companies and employees in direct Nation Building by feeding children who study at govt. schools. The association with corporates for CSR drives also helps us expand our footprint by reaching out to more schools and people and serving them nutritious food.

CSR is of major help when corporates engage their employees in contributing to the social cause and top it up with matching grants. This ensures that employees get the joy of giving back to society. Under Annamrita’s CSR scheme, the entire burden of cooking gas and delivery vehicle’s CNG for IFRF will be borne by Indian Oil Corporation. The domestic waste from the households of Faridabad is picked, segregated and converted into Biogas by a unique “Bio-Methanation Patented Plant” conceptualized in-house by the IOCL’s R&D centre.

Comment on World Food Programme by the United Nations.

The United Nations’ World Food Programme is extending support to 75 countries and providing nutrition-rich food. Back in 2004, Annamrita was also appreciated by World Food Programme for its work in the Mid Day Meal scheme for children and hence provided technical assistance for it.

Tell us about your growing association with schools in Haryana.

Haryana is one of the biggest states in terms of meals served to kids compared to all other states where we have a presence. Currently, ISKCON Food Relief Foundation is serving more than 2,50,000 healthy meals every day in over 2,000 schools of Haryana under the Mid day Meal Scheme. Annamrita makes sure that these meals are served hot and on time to these children. A connected network of 105 vehicles is used to deliver on time.

We are also serving schools which cater to children liberated from child labour under the National Child Labour programme. For most of these children, the mid day meal is the only meal of the day, which makes this service all the more important and critical. We have to deliver every day without fail. While we mass manufacture these meals in our mega kitchens, we have to be more cautious as this deal with food items.

The government of Haryana has appreciated these efforts. We’ve also received the Chief Minister’s letter of appreciation for our work in Haryana.

Tell us more about the support from District Red Cross Society.

ISKCON Food Relief Foundation steps in for Red Cross during disaster management. The organization recently earned appreciation from District Red Cross Society for extending selfless humanitarian and generous support to the flood victims of Basantpur Village in Faridabad. The organization pro-actively reached out to the State government and offered unsolicited aid to 500 villagers who were deeply affected.

Which are the different programmes Annamrita is currently running?

Apart from the Mid Day Meal Scheme across schools, we are running initiatives like ‘Corporate Drive’ and ‘Tithi Bhoj’ for corporates and the common man to keep the momentum going and generate funds. The whole idea of these initiatives is to involve more and more people.

Through our initiative, ‘Khichdi Drive’, we reach out to corporate houses to give them a taste of the food we serve to children in school while also having them understand our project and philosophies better. This meal is not charged, however, employees can donate for the food as per their will. All donations are being utilized to fulfill the deficit post govt. subsidy while running this programme.

Under our ‘Tithi Bhoj’ programme, individuals and corporates can celebrate special occasions by serving needy children with Annamrita meals. Some of the events which have been part of this initiative were Heinz Annual Day, HPCL Foundation Day, Dr Batra – Founder’s Day, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s birthday, Juhi Chawla’s birthday.

Regular health checkup camps are organized for all our employees comprising cooks, workers, drivers and staff. They are screened by India’s largest healthcare organization, The Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) every six months. To further ensure hygiene in the kitchen as well as preventing any external contamination of the food, each worker has to pass a medical checkup every six months. ESIC ensures that a worker doesn’t have any kind of skin or respiratory disease which may be a hindrance to maintaining hygiene.

When it comes to nutrition in India, what are some of the things we get wrong?

The biggest problem when it comes to understanding the term “nutrition” is that many people don’t understand what consists of a nutritious meal. There are misconceptions about various food items which are being labeled as unhealthy. It doesn’t take much to make even a simple meal nutritious!

Thank you for reading the interview until the very end. We appreciate the time you have given us. In addition, your thoughts and inputs will genuinely make a difference to us. Please do drop in a line and help us do better.

Regards,
The CSR Journal Team

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