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The small business providing free meals during school holidays

Words by Abi Scaife

After setting up her own business, Mandira Sarkar knew she wanted to make a difference. As a mother, she was especially horrified to hear just how many children are going to bed hungry - and resolved to help.

“I moved to the UK about 25 years ago and I couldn't cook,” admits Mandira. “I learned to cook the hard way because I figured if I didn't teach myself the homestyle food that I was used to I'd probably starve!”

After teaching herself to cook, Mandira’s friends went on to encourage her to put her money where her mouth is - literally - and set up her own business, selling the homestyle Indian foods she was used to eating. Eventually, Mandira gave in, and quit her career, and Mandira’s Kitchen was born.

“Having grown up in India, you notice poverty all around you. You see children begging for food you find a lot of people don't have enough to eat so it's a very visible poverty,” explains Mandira. “If you grew up in that environment, you're very conscious of food. That's very much built into the ethos now in the West, especially where we live in Surrey.”

It was during the COVID lockdowns that it really set in for Mandira how difficult it is for families who are struggling to afford food when their children are home for the holidays. Particularlyfor those whose children qualify for free school meals, the sudden need to provide extra food can be a huge financial burden.

Mandira preparing holiday hunger meals

Why do we need these free meals?

“If you’re on free school meals, the only hot meal that they [these children] get of the day is the meal that's provided by schools,” says Mandira. “During the holidays, these kids didn't get anything to eat.”

“You find even now when these kids go back to school after the holidays, they're literally climbing the walls because they haven't had something to eat.” 

According to the Trussell Trust, nearly half (47%) of all households experiencing food insecurity include children under the age of 16. 

The Trussell Trust also found: “Nearly a quarter (23%) of households with dependent children experience food insecurity compared to 11% of those without. This rises to nearly half (48%) of single adults living with children.”. You can see more of these statistics in The Trussell Trust's ‘Hunger in the UK’ June 2023 report.

“For us as a business, as a mother, I found it's criminal that there are children around us who are going to bed hungry,” explains Mandira. “So we started the Holiday Hunger Initiative.”

Holiday hunger meals 2

How does she do it?

Mandira’s Holiday Hunger Initiative brings together local volunteers to cook meals for children who will be going without their free school meals due to a school holiday. Thanks to the hard work of these incredible volunteers, these children will receive a warm, healthy, balanced meal to keep them going until they return to school.

“We decided that as an organisation we would create 5000 meals that we can send out - that's basically 500 meals during each school holiday, and some more for the longer holidays.”

Vouchers are available to purchase from Mandira’s Kitchen - or you or your company can simply make a donation - that helps to cover the cost of some of the ingredients. They will make the meals regardless, Mandira says - but of course, the money enables the team to do so much more.

Any leftover money goes towards buying other food items, like pasta and canned goods, which are donated to families in need through a local organisation. 

Holiday hunger meals 3

“In February I think we made 697 meals,” says Mandira. “It made sure that everybody had at least one hot meal, and they had the bag which had some other stuff in there. It's a project that we've been doing for quite a while now and we just intend to carry it through - it’s routine.”

The work of Mandira’s Kitchen just goes to show how imperative it is that businesses get involved with social action - no matter their size, or what they do to earn money. There is so much need in this world, but organisations like Mandira’s Kitchen are helping to make a difference - one hot meal at a time.

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article. 

Grow to Give. This charity connects local farmers and hobby growers to donate surplus fresh produce to food banks. Find out how to support them here.

The Felix Project. They collect fresh, nutritious food that cannot be sold and deliver this surplus food to charities and schools. Support them here.

FareShare. The UK's largest charity fighting hunger and food waste, they save good food from going to waste and redistribute it to frontline charities. Find out more.

This article aligns with the UN SDGs Zero Hunger and Partnerships for the Goals.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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