As the clock ticks towards twelve noon, K. Srikanth of Patancheru Zilla Parishad High School waits eagerly to listen to the familiar rumbling sound of the Akshaya Patra Foundation's van. The hum of the vehicle triggers images of lip-smacking food for Srikanth and his friends in school.

“I relish every morsel of food served by the foundation. It's tasty and my family can't afford to prepare such food on a daily basis,” Srikant, son of a daily wager, says.

Akshaya Patra in association with State government is providing food under the Mid-day meal scheme. But unlike food served at other government schools, the foundation has managed to maintain good quality, hygiene and nutritional value of the food without comprising on cost. The foundation relies on donations from philanthropists to bear additional expenditure.

“Under the scheme, the government pays Rs. 3 per child but food served by us costs nearly Rs.6 per child. Aim is not to deprive education at the cost of hunger. We hope to increase attendance by serving good food,” says Akshaya Patra, Hyderabad unit chief Lakshmi Kanta Dasa.

The plan seems to be working. “Ever since the foundation has started serving food, of the 380 students, nearly 300 students attend the school regularly,” says N. Mallesh, in-charge Head Master of the school. Over 30,000 students of 127 schools, both primary and high schools, in seven mandals of Medak district enjoy the food daily.

On a daily basis, 2, 200 kg of rice, 500 kg of dal, 600 kg of vegetables and 400 litres of curd is used to prepare food in a customised kitchen. Over 100 men and women are hired to prepare the food, which is later transported to schools located within 50 kilometres in ten vehicles. The food is stored in stainless steel vessels for hygiene and is served hot,” informs Mr. Dasa.

“In the next few years, we plan to serve food to over one lakh students. Already, we have applied for permission to serve 90 schools from next academic year,' he adds.