Chef at Large (CaL) recently conducted a goodwill initiative to mark the Joy of Giving week being followed across the country. The idea was conceived just a week back, there were team discussions on how to go about it, ideas were shared, an NGO was picked, date was set- basically everything happened too fast. I put Sid in touch with my friend Nadira who runs an NGO called Saksham – a school for underprivileged children -in Noida. A long-time blogger friend, a former bureaucrat turned social worker, single mom who goes backpacking and cycling away at fifty-six, Nadira’s energy levels have always given me an acute complex. Sadly she was taking off again to another of her expeditions, but she assured us there would be people at the school to help us organise the event.

After their meeting, Sid informed we’ll have to arrange for 175 children. 175! We rushed an appeal on the CaL page. I patiently waited for people to raise their hands to volunteer. The time was way too short, it was being difficult getting people on a weekend on a 2 day notice. Hundred..and..seventy..five..the number played on reverb, and looped. The first two days was a test of patience for participation, but on the third day, I was happy to see 4 more people on the list, apart from me and Sid’s family (wife Indu and daughter Cherie).

What followed was the smoothest division of labour; I compiled the quantities for the ingredients, Mona and Sid kept the communication running, Apeksha of Gourmet Jar and her husband Rishabh, and Rituparna of Chocolates and Dreams put the list to good use and carried heap loads of raw material to the venue. Monidipa had sent over four huge bags of her daughter’s clothes, toys and bags that were as good as new (it took us a while snatching a particular cuddly soft toy from Sid to give it away). We thought we had been really smart in asking Rituparna to carry her food processor – little did we imagine the whole of U.P. runs on inverter for most parts of the day. We quickly divided up our roles, the kids helped us in washing the vegetables, three of us took up the chopping job, Indu and Apeksha handled the sandwich counter, Cherie flitted between photographing to helping with the sandwiches to handing us the spoons and tissues while serving. Karan and Rishabh coordinated things like getting the coke, supervising the kids, and yes, clicking pictures. Apeksha had got her homemade apple jam which I thought was such a sweet gesture, and upon knowing that, we begged for a slice of butter jammed ecstasy which was, yes, greedy at best.

In a matter of 2 hours, and between the handful of us, we had chopped several hundreds of vegetables, buttered and jammed and equivalent number of bread slices, put together several kilos of bhelpuri and sandwiches, and fed more than 200 children present that day. We knew we had crossed the 200 mark when our numbered plates and spoons were over. The children had smartly made paper bags early that morning, which came handy as the remaining kids packed their food to take back home.

It was a day filled with such satisfaction, personally I had never arranged for these kind of numbers so it was a learning and most gratifying experience to see those kids walk away with smiles. More importantly, I was glad that instead of being a mere one-time feel-good initiative, Chef at Large unanimously decided to make this a long term involvement with Saksham; people readily agreed to volunteer every month for teaching the kids. Saksham teaches 175 children during the day and 300 children in the evening batches. They have a sufficiently equipped computer room, and hold workshops on extracurricular activities just like a regular school would do. Apart from promoting literacy and empowering them with applied knowledge and skills, I feel institutions like this ensure such children are not swept away into a world of abuse and exploitation.

I forgot to carry my camera, but photographs could be found at http://chefatlarge.in/columns/joy-of-giving-week-with-chef-at-large.html.

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