ISKCON Food Relief Foundation (IFRF), which has so far served 1.25 billion healthy sanctified vegetarian meals to underprivileged school children across India with its “Annamrita” program, celebrated its tenth anniversary on February 6th.
People packed out the 3,500-seat auditorium at the Yogi Sabhagriha of the Swaminarayan Temple in Mumbai for the event, entitled “Abhar: Expressing Our Heartfelt Gratitude.”
True to its name, the main purpose of the event was for ISKCON to thank its donors and supporters. So attendees included many donors and dignitaries from the corporate and government sectors such as Chief Guest Ajay Piramal of the Piramal Group, BMC corporator Dilip Patel, business coach and founder of Poly Carb Inc Ratanjit Sondhe, and Masami Sato, founder of Buy 1 Give 1.
The program began with an invocation and devotional chants by ISKCON devotees. IFRF Trustee and the Founder-Chairman of GE Lighting India Narendra Desai then welcomed all the dignitaries, donors, corporate representatives, well-wishers, school principals and government officials present.
Next, IFRF Managing Director Radha Krishna Das spoke about the journey his organization had made over the last ten years.
The Indian Government’s Midday Meal Scheme, which began in 1995 to help poor children at all public schools, approached ISKCON Chowpatty in Mumbai in 2004 to be one of the NGOs implementing the program.
“We initiated our school meal program, Annamrita, as a humble effort to fulfill Srila Prabhupada's dream, with continuous motivation from our ISKCON spiritual leaders Bhakti Charu Swami, Gopal Krishna Goswami and Radhanath Swami,” said Radha Krishna Das.
“We started by feeding 900 children on the first day,” he continued, “And now, Annamrita is serving over 1.2 million meals every day. Our 413 trained cooks prepare 360 tons of food each day in our high-tech kitchens, most of which are ISO certified.”
Radha Krishna cited more numbers, all of them impressive. 301 vans go out daily to deliver Annamrita meals to students in 5,912 schools in twenty locations across eight Indian states.
“We believe in providing underprivileged children with the right nutrition to support their education,” he said, explaining that one nutritious meal a day brings thousands of children to school who might otherwise have to work.
“The khichdi we serve,” he said, “Is prepared with the highest standards of hygiene and quality ingredients that meet the nutritional requirements of growing children. But most importantly, IFRF mixes the secret ingredients of love, devotion and compassion into its meals!”
ISKCON spiritual leader Radhanath Swami also spoke, telling a story about the origins of ISKCON’s charitable work.
“Years ago, ISKCON’s founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada witnessed a group of young children fighting with street dogs for scraps of leftover food,” he said. “This gruesome scene aroused compassion within his heart, and he instructed his followers that ‘No one within a ten-mile radius of any ISKCON center should go hungry.”
BMC Corporator Dilip Patel praised ISKCON’s efforts, commenting that BMC school children constantly complained about the lunch supplied by other organizations, and only wanted “ISKCON khichdi.”
“IFRF is the only institution that has the capacity of providing meals to hundreds of thousands of people at a time,” he said.
He added that the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is planning to provide a central kitchen to IFRF, so that ISKCON will be able to provide meals not only to school children, but also to hospital patients. IFRF will begin this program soon by providing sanctified vegetarian meals to 600 to 700 patients a day at Mumbai’s Cooper Hospital.
Buy 1 Give 1 Founder Masami Sato appreciates the Annamrita program
BMC Education Inspector Basanti Roy also spoke, sharing her positive experience of working with IFRF during the Mumbai flood of summer 2005.
At the time, nearly 5,000 government employees were stranded at Mantralaya, the administrative headquarters of the Maharashtra state government, and Roy had to arrange meals for everyone.
“I couldn’t think of anyone to help but ISKCON,” she said, describing how IFRF’s Annamrita staff travelled through the floods and heavy rains to provide meals not only for the Mantralaya employees but also for thousands of people trapped in Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus and Churchgate Railway stations.
Meanwhile Harshavardhan Agarwal, Chairman of the Mumbai Cuffe Parade Rotary Club, revealed that the Club is planning to sponsor another new kitchen for IFRF, which will use it to serve an additional 140,000 children in BMC schools.
For its part, IFRF acknowledged the continuous support of all its donors, including BMC, the Bank of India and Bank of Baroda, Excel Industries, JSW Steel, and Tata Motors and several rotary clubs. Representatives of all these groups and many more were called onto the stage to receive a gift as a token of IFRF’s appreciation.
ISKCON Food Relief Foundation invites any companies or individuals that also want to help its cause, and give underprivileged children a good nutritious diet so that they can stay in school, to find out more by visiting www.annamrita.org. You can donate directly by visiting http://annamrita.org/make-a-donation/.[ annamrita ] [ book-distribution ] [ food ] [ food-for-life ] [ life ] [ mumbai ]