In North Texas, over 850,000 people are food insecure. One in six people don’t know where their next meal will come from; one in four school going children rely on free or reduced-cost lunch programs. In September 2017, Plano residents Raj and Anna Asava launched the Indian American Council in partnership with the North Texas Food Bank to galvanize the Indian American community to fight hunger in North Texas.
“The purpose of a grassroots, community-led effort to fight hunger was to harness the strength of ethnic communities, helping them realize the enormous collective social impact they can have,” Anna says. “There’s so much food insecurity around us — 41 million people across America are food challenged. We have started with North Texas, with the Indian American community, and fully expect to inspire other communities across America to join in the fight against hunger.”
Raj and Anna felt inspired to launch the Indian American Council after the two felt that if more Indian Americans were aware of the alarming hunger issues here, they would want to engage in fighting hunger. The IAC’s mantra, “Hunger Mitao,” rings throughout the NTFB and the community; “mitao” meaning “to eradicate” or “wipe out” in Hindi.
“Across America, people of Indian origin are enabling multi-million dollar startups; running large corporations; and are becoming increasingly active in the public sector as well as philanthropy,” Raj says. “We figured that it is time we step up to take social entrepreneurship roles and get people rallied around the hunger issue. Hunger Mitao logically became our rally cry.”
Upon first launching the Indian American Council, Raj and Anna set the goal of raising one million meals for North Texas Food Bank over the course of a year. By the anniversary of the launch, the IAC had enabled 2.25 million meals, more than twice their original goal.
“It’s not our accomplishment, but rather the accomplishment of the entire Indian community,” Raj says. “Hundreds of people are now volunteering at NTFB regularly. Tens of thousands of hours have been given to raise hunger awareness, food and funds for NTFB, resulting in millions of meals for our food challenged neighbors. We are so proud of how the Indian American community in North Texas has responded.”
Raj and Anna credit the success of the IAC to everyone who has engaged in any form, adding that whenever the two are among friends and family, people always ask them how they can get involved.
“If the conversations are taking place, then the action will follow,” Anna says.
In 2019, Raj expects the IAC will help NTFB by enabling one million meals each quarter, totaling at four million meals by the end of the year. In a few years, Anna believes that the IAC has the potential to raise one million meals each month.
“It may take time,” Anna says. “It should take time, because it needs to be a deliberate thing. But I have no doubt that we’ll get there.”
In addition to helping NTFB, Raj and Anna hope to make fighting hunger all over America a priority for the Indian American community. They recently launched The Indian American Council for Houston Food Bank, where the local Indian American community members committed to one million meals in the first hour of its launch.
“Our intention is for volunteering with local food banks to become second nature in the community,” Anna says. “We want families to volunteer together resulting in interesting conversations around the dining table. Today it’s for hunger, tomorrow it may be for something else, but true community engagement is what we are trying to grow.”
As of now, Raj and Anna are working closely with the leadership of Food Bank for New York City and are planning an IAC launch there in the first quarter of 2019.
“A year into this journey, we are finding this to be a most fulfilling experience,” Raj says. “This country has enabled us to become what we are, it’s time we engage in local issues and give back. By giving where we live, we can affect change.”
To learn more about IAC’s impact on North Texas Food Bank and in the community, visit ntfb.org/iac