Ujjain, Madyapradesh-In this central Indian city, best known as the place where Lord Krishna studied at the school of his guru, Sandipani Muni, during His childhood pastimes, today's school children are healthier and happier due to the free food program provided by the ISKCON Ujjain Temple to the 170 schools in the local district.
Since July 2007, more than 28,000 school children each day are fed a healthy, vegetarian meal six days per week by the temple's Food for Life program. The project is a partnership of the local and federal government, which provides partial funding, and ISKCON, which provides manpower, infrastructure, and additional funding.
"Malnutrition remains a serious problem for India's poorest children," said Bhakti Charu Swami, spiritual head of ISKCON in Ujjain. "The government asked us to run this program because they knew we could manage in a way that maximized both the quality and quantity of food distributed," he said.
Each day, long before sunrise, the sixty-member Food for Life staff begins preparing its daily quota of fresh subji (vegetarian stew), dahl (lentil soup) and chapattis (unleavened bread). While the menu is traditional Indian, the means of production are not.
|In the center of the large, modern Food for Life kitchen stands a 30-foot long machine that looks like a huge pizza factory. Every hour, more than 10,000 chapattis will be flattened and baked in the oven. By the end of each day, 90,000 chapattis are ready for distribution to the region's school kids.|
"For many of the children, the lunch we provide is the only real meal they get all day," said Laxminath Dasa, Food for Life Manager. "Our founder-acarya, Srila Prabhupada, said no-one should go hungry within ten miles of a Krishna temple. He inspires me to help as many kids as I can."
Upstairs of the kitchen, an automatic wheat-sifting machine sorts the best grains and sends them to the adjoining room to be fresh-ground into flour, and then downstairs to the chapatti oven. Dahl and subji are cooked in large table-size woks nearby.
|By late morning, the first batch of 1,000 ten-liter stainless steel containers, full of hot dahl, subji, and chapattis, leave the Food for Life kitchen, a block from the ISKCON temple. Eight trucks, all painted with bright color murals of Krishna enjoying lunch with His spiritual associates, the cowherd boys of Vrindavana, are loaded with the sealed containers of prasada-sanctified food-and then driven off to deliver their cargo of nutrition to the 170 schools.|
The Food for Life program was inaugurated by the Chief Minister (state governor) of Madyapradesh, Mr. Shiva Raj Singh Chuan, less than one year ago. However, the program's success has already prompted the nearby Devas School District to ask ISKCON to feed its 60,000 students-a task the temple plans to undertake later this year.