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Jul 12 2017
by Sanjana Lahiri

How One Student Is Using His Gap Year to Make a Difference for the Hungry

By Sanjana Lahiri - Jul 12 2017

A gap year can take on many forms, from an opportunity to travel the world to a chance to gain work experience before heading off to university. But for Samay Bansal, a Singapore-based student who will join Tufts University’s class of 2021, it was a way to contribute to a cause that mattered to him.

“I’ve always loved food and my dream is to be involved in the culinary industry. I realized how important food was [to people]; no amount of aid does any good if an individual is hungry and malnourished," Bansal said.

Food for All, a project started by Bansal in 2016, aims to provide free food to people who have difficulty acquiring it otherwise. Based primarily in Bansal's hometown of Ludhiana, India, the project has raised over $5,000 and has provided 10,000 meals to people in the region. By the end of August, Bansal anticipates providing at least 5,000 more meals. 

“The end goal of the current project is to provide a million meals to individuals in need through three channels: A free food distribution stall, subsidized food provisions and donations of foodstuffs to a larger [meal-providing] organization," Bansal said.

The project started, as most do, with a fundraiser and a Facebook page. Bansal then got into contact with as many people in Ludhiana as he could to arrange the setup of a food stall and the preparation and distribution of meals. The purchase of the food for preparation would be from Ludhiana’s own markets, not just to reduce costs and transportation, but also to give the local economy a boost.

“We organize the food ourselves by either preparing it for cooking," he continued, "or packaging for distribution.”

In talking about what influenced him to start the project, Bansal mentioned The Shed that Fed a Million Children, a book by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow based on a similar “noble [cause]." He was further inspired by Ludhiana’s own "chabeels:" Family-run stalls that distribute free food, which he noticed had a constant positive impact on the city’s community.

Over the next few years, Bansal, in addition to continuing his work in Ludhiana, aims to use Food for All to send funds and food provisions to the LaValla school in Cambodia, where he spent a month of his gap year volunteering. You can follow his efforts on his Facebook page and make a donation here — keep in mind that even a $5 donation can provide an individual in Cambodia with 10 full meals or a family with 15 pounds of rice.

Inspired to start an initiative, but don’t know where to begin? Bansal’s advice is simple and frank:

“Honestly? Just try it out. Do something and see how it goes. Try it on a smaller scale, make mistakes and then keep correcting it 'till you have a model that you like and you think is actually make a difference. Log everything, keep track of all of the details, you can never say thank you to donors enough and don’t be afraid to share your progress and be proud of what you’ve done. You will not only inspire and influence others, but you may also be the reason someone else tackles an important cause in their community.”

In short, don't be put off by the thought of failure or the fear of not making a big enough difference. Who knows? You might end up changing some lives. 

Lead Image Credit: Samay Bansal

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Sanjana Lahiri - The Cooper Union

Sanjana Lahiri is a first-year architecture student from Singapore at the Cooper Union.

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