Vikas Khanna: The Chef who pioneered one of the world's largest food drives for a humanitarian cause

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Vikas Khanna, an acclaimed chef has been working in different time zones and across the continents for a noble cause since the start of the pandemic. The ace chef, who is currently based out of the east side of Manhattan, New York has received many accolades for his efforts and has become one of the world's largest food drives.

It all started when a mail hit the inbox of Vikas Khanna wherein the non-residents Indians were encouraged to make donations to help their brothers and sisters back in their home country. This was somewhere around the last week of March.

Khanna not only donated for the cause but also motivated his team back in India to do their bit. To his dismay, he soon realized that it was all a scam. He and his colleagues lost the donation money in all.

But what stayed with him is the photo of elderly people holding an empty plate that the organization had shared to entice people for donating. The photograph motivated Khanna and the world’s most acclaimed chef started the ‘Feed India’ movement.

Following this humane instinct on April 1, Khanna tweeted whereby he called out to people to share names of aged care homes, orphanages, or leprosy centers that needed help. His tweet got a decent response with about more than 1,000 replies.

By this time, India had entered its first nationwide lockdown. The lower class of the society who lives on a handful of money received every day/month was the most impacted. Further, the coronavirus had infected about 1,800 Indians and taken a life of 41, as per the country's Health Ministry at that time. Moreover, Vikas’s flourishing catering business was not spared from the detrimental situation. Since all events, weddings, shows were getting cancelled, he had to return the advances. In fact, he was due to sign a lease for a new restaurant in New York on March 31, which was also put on hold.

Something in the middle of all this chaos moved Khanna to focus on ‘Feed India’ and that is what he did. He put his team to a task from 7,000 miles away. They drew out a rough plan to put in action this humanitarian thought.

According to the plan, the team shortlisted cities where food was needed. To make the ends meet, they reached out to vendors and wholesalers who could supply them with food materials and other volunteers, who could help in packing the food kits and delivering them to those in need.

On April 3, the first deliveries reached the hands of the needy in two cities located at opposite ends of the country - Mangalore in Karnataka and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

What started on a good note had many hurdles along its way. On April 10, somebody siphoned off a truck full of food and amenities. One of his team members involved with the initiative, who knew well that Khanna was sitting miles away, took advantage of the situation. That had a huge setback.

Upset Khanna called up his mother and expressed his grief by saying, “I can't continue running the operation."

Bindu Khanna, his mother, motivated Khanna and told him to not give up on this operation as it could mean that he is paying back to his country, which gave him and his family everything.

Vikas gathered himself and strategized a better way of going about this idea, more organized one rather. In mid-April, he sent a message to the Chief of India's National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) Mr. SN Pradhan who was spearheading relief efforts across the country.

And then with the help of NDRF, Khanna extended help to millions of migrant workers, sex workers, orphans, transgender communities, and victims of the floods that swept through the eastern states of West Bengal, Assam, and Bihar.

While talking about how it was working with Vikas, SN Pradhan said, "Even though it was a one-man show from there, I told him we could be your hands, legs and ears in India. His endeavour has been a beautiful audacity. It has worked because it is deeply, deeply humanitarian.”

Over a period of time, many corporate houses including Pepsi, Quaker Oats, and Hyatt Regency, to name a few, joined the initiative.

And this is how from two corners of the world, a man who with his grit and determination to do good started an operation that became the world's largest food drives. In fact, now the operation includes donating many other things under its umbrella.

Knowing a little bit more about this amazing human, Vikas Khanna

Vikas was born with club feet. The doctor had predicted that this boy would never be able to walk. He was made to wear wooden shoes for over a decade. And then one day, a miracle touched him when he was 11 years old and that was the day, he ran for the first time. Since then, he never looked back.

He was bullied as a child. In order to find his solace, he started spending time at the community kitchen at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, feeding hundreds of devotees. And that is when he found his love for flavours and food.

Vikas’s journey was no cakewalk, but he decided to never give up.

He is the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin Star in America. He has had the honour of cooking for the Obamas, directing a film, having written 35 books celebrating Indian food, and hosting the ‘MasterChef India’.

Tough times don’t last, but tough people do – a lesson we can learn from Vikas Khanna!

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