That was the case in Berii. Headmaster Mr. Singh points to one of the eldest girls. "She returned late to school every day and when asked why, she said, 'There was no food.' "
In 2000, a group of Hare Krishnas in Bangalore noticed the problem. They began to take the rations and deliver a daily cooked meal to a few local schools, building on a Hindu tradition of serving meals for the poor.
Soon the group received letters from other schools wanting to be included. Within months the requests totaled 100,000.
"We were shocked," says Suvyakta Das, a president of Akshaya Patra, the secular foundation formed by the Hare Krishnas to do this charity work. "We didn't realize the scale of this issue in Bangalore."
They would soon learn the scale of the issue nationwide, but for the moment the question was how to cook 100,000 lunches a day?
"Everybody said, 'This scale? Sorry,' " says Mr. Das. However Das – who graduated from a top engineering university in India – along with other engineer devotees in the group designed "centralized kitchens" capable of churning out more than 100,000 lunches every morning.
The kitchen managed by Das in Vrindivan, a town near Beri, opens at 2 a.m., and by 9 a.m. the food is on trucks headed to 1,500 nearby schools. Mostly this is done by machine, requiring just 65 workers.
One machine can churn out 40,000 – a circular flat bread – an hour. Workers pack the hot in insulated canisters until a specific weight is reached for each school.
With the help of the kitchens, Akshaya Patra now feeds 1.2 million children a day. An impact assessment by ACNielsen found the program has succeeded in raising school enrollments in various regions, some by as much as 15.3 percent. Attendance also jumped in some places by more than 10 percent.