We’ve all heard about Akshaya Patra and the amazing work they do with mid-day meals across the country. What we haven’t heard about is the amazing work they also do when it comes to relief during crises. One of the first organisations to take cognizance of the effects of the lockdown, Akshaya Patra swung into action. We speak to the CEO, Akshaya Patra: Shridhar Venkat; to find out what made them ready and more…

How has Akshaya Patra taken on the relief work for people affected by the COVID-19 lockdown?
The Akshaya Patra Foundation has always strived to aid the Government’s relief efforts during crises. In the past, we have undertaken relief feeding in flood-affected regions of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, etc. We believe in collective efforts to provide relief to people in need. Today, as the nation is in a complete lockdown to contain COVID-19 outbreak, we are working with the Government of India, State Governments and civic administrations and undertaking relief feeding in various locations across India to help vulnerable communities, such as migrant daily-wage earners, construction labourers, industrial workers, and others who are having a difficult time arranging food for themselves. As the implementing partner of the Government’s flagship Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Programme, we have kitchens in various locations across the country. We are utilizing this kitchen network to prepare fresh food and deliver it to the centres assigned by the authorities where it is served to people in need. At the same time, we have set up packaging centres in various locations across the country where food relief kits are packed with essential groceries and distributed to families from vulnerable communities. Each of these kits has dry ration sufficient for 42 or 28 meals. Besides the support and encouragement of the Government, we have continued support from corporate houses and individual philanthropists in this initiative. Sudha Murthy and Narayana Murthy and their family donated 10crores from their personal funds towards our relief work. Several corporate houses, including PepsiCo Foundation, Nestle India, DLF Foundation, Deutsche Bank, and Infosys Foundation, have come forward and contributed to the endeavour. Groups, such as Inspiring Indians and Corona Warriors, as well as employees from organisations, such as the Infosys Foundation and Biocon, have selflessly come forward to volunteer at our facilities and helped us meet our manpower requirements.

Which are the States in which Akshaya Patra is working in and what are the numbers of people being benefited by the work being done?
We are undertaking relief feeding through our network of kitchens in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, we are in the process of setting up our kitchens. In these States, we are using existing structures and resources to distribute food relief kits to those in need. We commenced our relief efforts late in March. As of April 24, we have served over 30million (3crore) meals, i.e., over 13million freshly cooked meals and 406,872 food relief kits (serving nearly 17million meals).

How is Akshaya Patra ensuring that this is a continued effort? Where are raw materials being sourced from? And will this relief work continue if the lockdown is further extended?
If we have been able to serve over 3crore meals to people in need during these difficult times, it is due to the collective efforts of everyone involved. Undertaking relief feeding on such a large scale during the lockdown had its share of challenges, but timely permissions and authorizations from the State Governments and civic administrations have been crucial in ensuring that such challenges are minimal. In the case of raw material procurement, for instance, the necessary permits from concerned authorities for the movement of delivery vehicles and our cordial relations with the suppliers ensured that the supply chain was not affected. Therefore, we have not faced problems in this department. Corporates have provided financial as well as logistical support, and even helped meet the manpower requirements by urging their employees to volunteer. Individuals have selflessly come forward to participate and help in undertaking these relief efforts. Hopefully, the situation will return to normalcy soon and people will be able to get back to their day-to-day life. Until that day comes, Akshaya Patra will continue its relief efforts and try to serve as many people as possible.

What are the other plans initiated by Akshaya Patra beyond food relief? How else is the organisation helping the affected populations?
Implementing the MDM Programme for nearly two decades now, we have developed the infrastructure and expertise necessary to undertake social feeding endeavours. We are primarily leveraging the same in our humble attempt to help the affected populations during the ongoing lockdown.

Learnings from the relief operations, so far?
We have been undertaking COVID-19 relief feeding for nearly a month now. There have been some immediate learnings for us from the initiative. Firstly, it has effectively demonstrated that public-private partnerships, bringing together the Government and private sector, can help maximize the impact of such efforts. Secondly, it has also shown that the creation of an emergency relief fund and having a safety protocol in place can be of great help when we face such crises. Lastly, the initiative has put the spotlight on the importance of systematic coordination with quick turnaround when it comes to relief efforts on a large scale. In addition, this relief feeding endeavour has shown that people will proactively come forward and join hands to help those in need during difficult times. It has validated our belief that no matter how big the challenge is, if all of us who have access to necessary resources come together; we will be able to scale it.