Feed a Hungry Child’s Stomach at School and Educate His Mind

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From left: Piyali Dutta (AP Staff), Emily Rosenbaum (CEO of AP), Gopi Kallayil (Google Marketing Executive), Manisha Gandhi (Director of Development, Southeast USA, AP) Rajiv Satyal (Emcee and Comedian), Harsha Satyal, Desh Deshpande (Founder of AP, USA) at the AP Benefit held on Sunday, October 11. 
Photos: Navin Mediwala

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By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: In a poignant moment towards the end of the program, the Akshaya Patra Board Chairman Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande acknowledged the contribution of the man who worked tirelessly half a dozen years ago to start the local chapter in Houston. A physician who had pursued an active retirement through dedicating himself, and his late wife followed, to the care of those less fortunate, Dr. K. T. Shah had found his calling as the lead caregiver at the Doctor’s Charity Clinic every weekend.

When Shah heard of the AP work, he went to visit a kitchen in India to learn firsthand how the program worked. He returned to passionately and energetically organize the first fundraiser at the Westin Galleria hotel to a packed crowd of around 600 people. Now ailing with health issues that have sidelined him to a wheelchair, Shah received a standing applause for establishing the Houston chapter.

Manisha Gandhi, a Houstonian who has been deeply involved in local non-profits, business and politics and who has been named the new Development Director of the Eastern US for AP, was the chair of the organizing committee for the AP Benefit held last weekend which was made of a hurriedly formed list of well-known Houstonian Indo Americans. Gandhi spoke touchingly of the pioneering work that Shah had done for the local AP effort.

She expanded on the simple idea at AP to feed kids a hot school lunch, which has been shown to impact the kids to learn better during the school day. Gandhi is also the local reporter covering events for TV Asia and recalled having done a story on AP when Deepak Chopra came for the last Gala two years ago. ” ‘Houston, we have a problem’ can be changed,” remarked Gandhi, “to ‘Houston, we have a solution’!”

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It is a testimony to the growing prowess and activity level of the local Indo American community that the AP Benefit was held on a Sunday evening, October 11 at the Sugar Land Marriott hotel in Town Square, as most of the days of the week are usually occupied with other events and the weekend events usually clash with each other. Though the AP Benefit was long on presentation, at the end of which dinner was served, the close to 300 people who came did not leave without a positive impression of the tremendous impact that the AP program is having across India on school kids.

The event benefitted from the superb emceeing of Los Angeles based Indo American comedian Rajiv Satyal who could turn a phrase into a witticism from the get go, which quick delivery and some mock self-deprecation. He introduced his wife Harsha who was born and raised in LA Grange, Texas and went to college at UT-Austin. “We have been married two months and we named our wedding ‘Cowboys and Indians’. I worship cows, I’m a Hindu,” he said to giggles all around.

The entertainment was simple but classical as Amani Parvathaneni, the 14-year-old daughter of Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish (who could not attend as he is in India; his wife Nandita was present though) displayed her remarkable skills as she performed two intricate dances spaced several items apart.

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The keynote speaker was Gopi Kallayil, the Chief Evangelist for Google Social for Brands and aptly so, given Deshpande’s own career in the IT industry. Kallayil opened up with a startling question. “How many organs do you have in your body?” he asked, replying to a surprised audience, “78. And this,” holding up a cell phone, “is now the 79th organ. You talk to it. It can speak to you, it has a brain!” From the analogy of “the most comprehensive invention in history with an estimated 7.2 billion devices worldwide”, Kallayil moved on to show that technology used properly can pair with social needs to have lasting effects.

He compared the work that AP was doing in feeding schoolkids to the a similar pairing which allowed 60,000 rotis and kilos of daal, sabzi and rice to be made in a very short span of 5 to 6 hours and then delivered hot to school kids across the city. The delivery management system requires tremendous planning and execution, something that AP has been able to perfect, which has led to its 24 kitchens across 28 states in India, the latest being a planned site in New Delhi.

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Emily Rosenbaum, the newly appointed CEO of AP USA expanded on that thought, adding that “we are factories with a heart, making 100,000 meals in 5 hours”. She spoke about how impressed she was with the efficiency and cleanliness when she toured a kitchen on a recent trip to India. The industrialist Ratan Tata was impressed enough to ask AP to set up a similar kitchen to help the earthquake victim in Nepal and AP responded, Rosenbaum said, by setting one up and operational in 15 days.

A live auction brought in quite a few titters as Satyal ran it, and raised plenty of money for the charity, including the sale of an oil painting done live off to one side of the hall by local artist Gopal Seyn, who is scheduled to have his first international showings in the coming months. The evening reportedly brought $150,000 to the AP coffers.