AWB Food Bank

How It All Began

The AWB Food Bank is the brainchild of NRI Indian American Varinder K. Bhalla, a mechanical engineer who runs a consulting firm on Long Island, New York. The food bank is named after his mother, Agya Wanti Bhalla, who always believed that the best way to serve God is to help the poor and feed the hungry, which was part of her daily routine in Amristar, India.

The idea of the food bank occurred to Mr. Bhalla while fasting on the first anniversary of the passing away of his mother. He had been discussing with his wife, Ratna, a plan to feed hungry people in India in the memory of his mother when the couple would next visit their native country. Shortly thereafter, he turned on the television and – as if by God’s design – found himself watching a program about a food bank in Washington, DC that procured surplus food from hotels and distributed it to needy people. “If we could set up a food bank like this in India,” an excited Bhalla told his wife, “we could feed hungry people every day and honor mother’s legacy.”

Dr. Brij Mohan Abrol, an eminent physician and formerly a visiting professor at Boston and Michigan State Universities, offered to manage the project, with the help of Sunaina Singh, Principal of an elementary school in New Delhi. They hired full time paid workers for day to day operations. The Hyatt Regency was the first hotel in Delhi to commit to AWB Food Bank. Soon, other five star hotels and airline caterers joined in.

The television and print media were fascinated by the novel idea of feeding the poor with surplus food from five star hotels. All leading newspapers throughout India and major television networks covered the story. Even Air India played a film about AWB in its New York bound flights. All this unexpected publicity helped in the expansion of the food program. R. C. Bhargava, the then-Chairman and Managing Director of Maruti Udyog, India’s largest car manufacturer, reached out to AWB and offered surplus food from its kitchens, where three meals were cooked each day for its 5,000 workers. With the national publicity, similar food banks were set up by others who received training from AWB.

The VVIPs of India were very supportive. In 1992, Bollywood actor and member of India’s Parliament Sunil Dutt spoke to a gathering of hoteliers and caterers in New Delhi, urging them to donate their excess food to AWB. Former President of India Giani Zail Singh made a televised appeal in support of the Food Bank. Dr. Karan Singh, the former Union Health Minister and India’s Ambassador to the United States, joined President Singh and commended AWB for its activities based on the Indian tradition of feeding the hungry and called it an “ingenious idea” and a “punnya”,a noble deed in Hindu mythology. Both Zail Singh and Sunil Dutt were patrons of the AWB Food Bank. R. K Narayan met Bhalla numerous times, as Vice President and the President of India, and took keen interest in the functioning of the AWB Food Bank.

Today while AWB Food Bank continues its mission of feeding the hungry, it has expanded its charitable endeavors to include helping needy students in their quest for education.