Akshaya Patra, considered the world’s largest school mid-day meal program in India run by a non-governmental organization, held its annual gala Nov. 16, in Newark, N.J., hosted by the New Jersey chapter.
It attracted more than 500 people who generously opened their wallets raising more than $600,000 at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, raising bids in silent and open auctions, organizers told Desi Talk.
The keynote speaker was Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer at Publicis Groupe, an advertizing and communications company with 80,000 employees around the world.
The Special Guest was actor Anupam Kher. Other dignitaries included Vandana Tilak, CEO of Akshaya Patra USA, India’s Deputy Consul General Shatrughna Sinha, as well as the New Jersey chapter’s Advisory Board, including Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold.
“The final tally was more than $600,000. By the end of the year we hope to make it a million dollars. Some bigger pledges are still to come,” Dr. Rachana Kulkarni, a cardiologist and one of the chairs of the N.J. chapter, told Desi Talk.
The Master of Ceremonies of the event was comedian Rajiv Satyal. After the auctions and during the gala, entertainment was provided by New Jersey-based singer Akshaya Anaokar, who has performed nationally and internationally.
A reception for the main donors and a meet-and-greet with dignitaries, was followed by Dr. Kulkarni welcoming the guests. Her four-year long involvement with Akshaya Patra, is based on her belief that Indian-Americans are successful here because of the excellent education they received in their original homeland. “Our parents did not have to choose between food on the table and education. And that’s what I want to make possible for children, that’s what Akshaya Patra makes possible,” Dr. Kulkarni told Desi Talk. In her speech to the crowd, she said, “Your coming here is a testament to your investment in the kids that are supported by Akshaya Patra.” By providing the meal, the cycle of poverty can be broken, kids can be retained in schools preventing them ending up as child laborers, and girls receive an education they may not otherwise get, giving them greater options in life, she pointed out.
In India, Akshaya Patra provides a healthy lunch daily to some 1.76 million children in 15,024 schools across 12 states in India. (foodforeducation.org).
In his speech to those assembled, Kher dwelt on his “humble” past and said his was a poor family, but his parents encouraged him and advised him that failure was only an event and not a person and did not define one. He urged those present to donate freely because today they may be giving to someone who could be the keynote speaker at a similar event a few years from now. “Give like it is a privilege,” he said.
Advisory Board members from the Tristate area, including Dr. Parikh, were recognized for their guidance and support, as were the five co-chairs of the chapter, including Dr. Rachana Kulkarni, Dr. Anand Kulkarni, Kiran Kothari, Haresh Patel, Roopa Makhija, and Biren Shah.
In his keynote speech, Tobaccowala dwelt on the diversity that defines the United States, and the power of education to uplift society. Twenty five percent of his company’s 80,000 employees are in India, he noted. Because India has some of the sharpest minds in the world, the youth there is the future. Akshaya Patra will nurture those young minds, he said.
Tilak spoke about how Akshaya Patra functions, how it combines technology with innovation, and how it is a public-private partnership. A gift of $25 could feed a child for a whole year, she noted, opening the pledge drive on that powerful message.
At least 20 Young Ambassadors worked hard to make the event a success Dr. Kulkarni said. They were also recognized at the gala.
Deputy Consul General Sinha congratulated Akshaya Patra for its seminal work in India and pledged the continued support of the Government of India.