Indian charity organisation offers free school meals in England

An Indian child poverty charity that feeds millions of poor children in India, has joined the drive to end holiday hunger in England and distributed its first meals from a new kitchen in Watford, northwest of London.

Hot vegetarian meals cooked for less than 2 pound each using a model developed to feed the hungry in the Indian cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad were dispatched to a school in north London on Tuesday amid growing pressure on the government to reverse its decision to cancel free school meals this half-term.

Mixed vegetable pasta and hot cauliflower cheese meals cooked by chefs working for the Akshaya Patra charity, which produces 1.8 million meals for schools daily in India, were collected by Kate Bass, the headteacher of Mora primary school in Cricklewood, from a purpose-built kitchen designed to cook 9,000 meals a day.

The charity is planning to set up similar kitchens in Leicester and east London and expects to keep delivering free meals to schools in the Christmas holidays.

Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, Chief Executive of Akshaya Patra, said: “It might seem strange to some that this model is imported from India. But we are bringing a tested model from a country that has dealt with this problem with speed and at scale”.

The charity also aims to sell meals to schools for less than 2 pound a portion — with half paid by the state and half by its donors.

Campaigners for the initiative said the expansion of an operation developed to end child food poverty in India in the UK was a sign of how serious the problem had become.

“One can scarcely believe the new methods communities are having to deploy to protect children from hunger and this is another example,” said Andrew Forsey, the national director of Feeding Britain, which is lobbying the government for a permanent increase in universal credit payments and to establish universal holiday activities and a food programme.

Sonal Sachdev Patel, Chief Executive of the GMSP Foundation, the donor which funded the 500,000 pound kitchen, said: “The way this country has responded is utterly amazing, but [many small operations] isn’t the solution”.

“Hunger in the UK has been a problem for much longer than this. The solution is to bring in the technology and innovation that India is already using. They have a nutrition problem, we have a nutrition problem, but they are doing this already.”