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Feeding Kids with Akshaya Patra in India


In February 2009, Commodity Manager Kai Stark and Kathy Larson, Frontier's VP of Sustainability and Education, made a sourcing trip to India. One of their stops was at a Well Earth® supplier of Fair Trade vanilla closely associated with Akshaya Patra, a charitable foundation that provides meals to schoolchildren in India. While there, Kai and Kathy were able to attend the dedication ceremony for a truck purchased by the Frontier Foundation to transport meals to remote schools in the south-central region of the country.

Akshaya Patra feeds almost a million Indian children a meal every day they attend school. For many of these children, it is their only nutritious meal of the day—as a result of the program, the schools have seen their dropout rates plummet to almost zero.

Frontier CEO Tony Bedard visited India in 2008 and presented Akshaya Patra with a check for $10,000 on behalf of Frontier—enough to feed roughly 350 children a midday meal each day for a year. When Tony returned, he said, "Seeing firsthand the scale of this kind of operation and understanding the impact that this program has had in fostering literacy in India was something I will never forget."

Kai and Kathy were also moved by their time with the people of Akshaya Patra and the children they feed. The photos and stories they brought back help the rest of us see just how much good is being done through our support of this organization—and the many others supported by the Well Earth program.

Making the meals

When our vanilla supplier first suggested we get involved with Akshaya Patra, we were very impressed with what we found. It is a great—and great-hearted—program. It has grown tremendously since it was founded in 2000 through the dedication and hard work of thousands of Indian people committed to making a difference.

Making the mealsOne of 16 modern kitchens
Each kitchen delivers meals to schools within a radius of 50km. The crews start cooking at 2:00 am to get food ready for the early morning departures of the delivery trucks.

Cleaning the grains
The kitchens handle huge volumes of food, storing grains in silos and creating special equipment to handle it all. Akshaya Patra is very concerned about nutrition and food safety—they consult with nutritionists and carefully adhere to good food service practices.

Receiving and weighing
The shipping of these volumes of food is also a major undertaking.

Chopping and preparing the herbs
The operations involve a lot of handwork by the many Indian workers employed by Akshaya Patra. Some ingredients have to be hand-cleaned to insure sanitation, and there are mountains of vegetables and herbs to be chopped.

Prepared ingredients are poured, each hopper goes to a cooker, meals are packed
As the kitchens rebuild and expand, they are constantly making improvements to boost their efficiency. This facility has gone to a three-story set up to prepare, cook and fill containers for distribution. There is continual innovation, such as special cookers to handle the large amounts of rice, packing to keep meals secure and hot on their long trips, and customized conveyors to deliver the packed meals to the trucks.

The foods come from a variety of sources, such as grower donations, government allocations of grain (based on number of kids fed), and purchases from local markets. (Frontier's $10,000 donation in 2008 was used to purchase food from local markets.)

Specially designed trucks
The trucks used to distribute the meals are specially designed to stay sanitary and secure over the rough terrain that often has to be traveled. On-time delivery of the meals is crucial—if the food doesn't get there, many kids simply won't eat that day—and the drivers are absolutely dedicated to making that happen no matter what obstacles they encounter. There are back-up drivers and systems of support if trucks break down—the meals have even been delivered in taxis.

Dedication of the Frontier sponsored meal delivery truck

Dedication of the Frontier sponsored meal delivery truckFrontier's sponsored truck was greatly appreciated as a crucial help in the expansion to remote schools in south-central India. The trucks carry banners on every side with our logo that say "donated by Frontier Natural Products Co-op." And numerous personal expressions of thanks left no doubt that the gratitude is sincere.

Kai and Kathy discovered when they arrived for the dedication, that the ceremony was quite elaborate. Akshaya Patra makes an event out of the addition of every new building, truck, expansion, and equipment purchase, because, as they told Kai and Kathy, they feel it's important to "ensure an auspicious beginning" to each new endeavor.

This celebration included the wearing of beautiful sandalwood leis, breaking of coconuts on rocks in front of the truck and the placing of lemons under its four tires. The truck keys were brought in a basket of flowers to be symbolically transferred from Frontier to Akshaya Patra.

Feeding the kids at a schoolFeeding the kids at a school

The part of the truck dedication that was most meaningful to Kai and Kathy was being given the honor of serving the first meals from the truck. Although the schoolchildren were reserved at first, they soon warmed to the newcomers and their cameras, mugging spiritedly by the end.

Starting all over again --
Kai and Kathy came away with a new understanding of the impact Frontier is having through our support of organizations like Akshaya Patra, and the new truck went on to complete its rounds. Like the other trucks, as the truck drops off full containers, it also picks up the empty ones from previous day's meal and brings them back to be washed and sterilized. Then the process starts all over so the kids can have a good meal again tomorrow.

well earthThe Frontier Foundation is a third-party administrated fund that makes philanthropic grants at Frontier's request. The Foundation was established in 2000 to provide financial support to dynamic social, educational and environmental causes. We have donated nearly $250,000 so far to causes such as disaster relief, anti-oxidant research, native plant rescue and protection, organic farming research and education.

Here we chronicle a 2009 visit to one of organizations supported by the Frontier Foundation—Akshaya Patra, an Indian charity that provides daily meals to schoolchildren through the country.

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