Food for Life London marked a milestone this Christmas by introducing the UK’s first fully electric food distribution van to serve Londoners. The project has relentlessly continued to serve the needy during the pandemic and the nationwide lockdowns, remaining to be one of the few charities still providing free food to the homeless in Central London during these challenging times.
Thanks to the efforts of the London-wide community, the team will now be able to serve hundreds with the new zero emissions van. The van was unveiled at a virtual event on Sunday 20th December. The date also marked the 51st installation anniversary of Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara and the opening of the Radha-Krishna Temple in London. The event was hosted by two budding YouTubers visiting a Hare Krishna Temple for the first time. Highlights of the event included the journey of the van, a Vedic ceremony by the Temple’s Head Priest and interviews with the Temple President, Govinda’s Restaurant Manager, Food for Life Chief Organiser and the Project Lead. Special guests including Deputy Mayor of London Rajesh Agrawal, Bhakti Rasamrita Swami, Indradyumna Swami and Sacinandana Swami shared their congratulations and heartfelt appreciation for the community work being done by the project through their messages of support.
Gopal (Krishna) with a cow to symbolize the importance of cow protection and the Temple’s transition to Ahimsa milk, accompanied by a magnificent Srimati Radharani.
Hear the message from Deputy Mayor of London, Rajesh Agrawal: http://bit.ly/fflvanlaunch-message-deputymayor
Rajiv Nandha, Project Leads shares the inspiration behind and journey of the project, “The project conception began in November 2018 when I did Food for Life for the first time and noticed the need for a new van. Back then I did not know anyone at the Temple but somehow Krishna made arrangements and now I have become part of the family. Inspired by Shyamasundar dasa’s Chasing Rhino’s book, we decided to aim high and capture the rhino in the UK’s first electric food van. The project has been a rollercoaster of joy with almost 85 young volunteers contributing behind the scenes. Over 350 fundraisers walked and chanted the Hare Krishna mantra on the streets of London, and over 1000 people from various backgrounds donated to the cause. The success of this project is in the community spirit and exposure it has brought to the Temple. Due to Brexit and Covid-19 it took longer than planned to obtain the van and have it built to the highest standard. It required a lot of time and attention to detail to obtain the van as a fully electric food van has never been manufactured before in the UK.”
To raise the funds, hundreds walked on the hottest day of 2019 through the streets of London. Walk Against Hunger was a 10-mile walk through iconic sites of the city such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, London Eye, Palace of Westminster and City Hall. The walk also included visits and stories of significant importance of the movement’s history in London. Hailey Summers, a walker visiting the Radha-Krishna Temple for the first time said, “It has been a fantastic day, the community atmosphere is extremely uplifting. I loved the music and chanting, and so did the crowds of people we walked past. At one point I had tears in my eyes when we walked through a tunnel and the echo of the Hare Krishna mantra vibrated through everyone. This was my first experience of the chanting and dancing and it will definitely not be the last.” Through the fundraising campaign over £65,000 was raised in just 2 months.
The front of the van features Their Lordships Jagannath, Baladev, and Subadra, designed by Ambika Design from Belarus.
In full festive spirit, alongside the launch of the electric food van, the team also served thousands of free meals over 10 days across 10 miles during the Christmas period. This activity makes the connection with the instruction of ISKCON’s founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, that no one within 10 miles of a Hare Krishna Temple should go hungry. Food for Life London will now be able to fulfil this in an environmentally friendly way serving fresh hot nutritious meals.
Dharmita Bhanderi and Hemna Santilale, Food Distribution leads share, “As part of the van launch and helping those in need over Christmas, we wanted to go beyond our regular distribution of 1,200 meals a week. We reached out to homeless shelters, food banks, care homes, NHS staff, key workers and to those in need across London. It has been a humbling experience so far delivering over 2,500 meals to those in need, including struggling families. Along with the meals we also gifted over 1,500 books of spiritual wisdom (including the Bhagavad Gita and Chant and Be Happy). We had so many enthusiastic and selfless volunteers sign up creating a team that was dedicated to helping fulfil Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s mission of food and book distribution to help those across London. We are grateful to all those who have been involved.”
Grateful key workers taking sanctified food and Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s books.
The meals were prepared at the world famous Govinda’s Restaurant, London’s oldest, most popular and award-winning pure vegetarian restaurant. The van will also be used by the restaurant at market stalls, festivals and be hired for various events. “Food for Life has been running through the restaurant’s kitchen for over 25 years. The young volunteers come after work and help make tea, cake and kichadi. The new van will help Govinda’s expand to reach more locations to distribute sanctified food. We plan to visit festivals, markets, Rath Yatras and even give people the option to rent for special occasions. The van is equipped with a fitted kitchen – full size fridge, cooking facilities, a bain-marie to keep food hot and it even has two hatches from which food will be served. As well as Govinda’s famous thali, we also plan to have dosas and pancakes.” says Thirupati Gauranga dasa, Govinda’s Restaurant Manager, sharing the plans for the restaurant’s expanded service through this van.
With homelessness being at a record high in London, Food for Life London is needed more than ever during the current pandemic. Being given the status of ‘frontline workers’, the charity is staffed entirely by volunteers who are braving the challenges of the current risky environment to continue their vital work providing free nutritional meals to the homeless. Throughout the pandemic, the team of volunteers served over 200 meals each day, including curries, pasta, vegetable rice, banana cakes, hot drinks, water bottles, sleeping bags and more.
Watch the launch event: http://bit.ly/ffl-van-launch
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If you live in London and are inspired to volunteer, please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to donate towards distribution, you can do so at www.iskcon.london/donate/ffl
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Atma Tattva Das, ISKCON News Staff Writer
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