Originally posted on C&G Newspapers
TROY — Two former Troy residents are returning to Michigan to team up with Gleaners Community Food Bank to help combat food insecurity.
Anna and Raj Asava moved to the Detroit area from India in 1974 and both began careers working in various roles in corporate America. Since then, they have found success, and upon their respective retirements in 2009 and 2010, they began trying to give back to those in need.
“We wanted to spend more time with our aging family members, we wanted to travel, and we wanted to give back to the community,” said Raj. “We were focused on lots of causes. … About five years ago, I was having lunch with the mayor here in Plano, Texas, and he asked us to sponsor a program to provide food for schools, including schools where our own children went.”
Once they started looking at the issue of food insecurity, both said they were shocked that an affluent community such as theirs had such a prevalent problem with hunger.
“We talked with members of the Indian Physicians Association and a local food bank. There were 850,000 people in north Texas alone who were in need,” said Anna. “Plano was one of the wealthiest cities in Texas, and there were still these problems. The food bank woman took out a backpack full of food that kids could eat; nothing that needed to be cooked or be prepared.”
The pair began to take action, but Raj said they soon realized that spreading information could be as important as spreading food supplies.
“Once we were convinced the food bank system worked, we decided to help,” he said. “We wrote a $100,000 check, but we then had an epiphany. It took us 30 years to realize how big this problem is. People may not be aware of how (hunger) is all around us. … So we wanted to give three years of our time to raise awareness of the food bank and the need.”
So the pair launched a new organization called Hunger Mitao to both combat food insecurity and raise awareness of the problem, focusing specifically on getting the Indian American community involved.
“So, on Sept. 29 in 2017, we launched Hunger Mitao,” Raj continued. “We started speaking with the community about the hunger issue, and it took us only seven months to get our first million meals. We raised our next million in four months. We have now launched Hunger Mitao in Houston, North Texas, and the Tarrant area in Texas, Atlanta, New York, and Seattle. So far we have raised 40 million meals.”
Their seventh area of focus is now the Detroit area, realized through a partnership with Gleaners.
The partnership will formally begin with a virtual food drive event on Tuesday, Oct. 18, on Zoom.
“We started talking to them about eight months ago,” explained Aitchison. “We put together a virtual food drive, and they sent it out to some of their contacts. Oct. 19 is the official launch of the partnership. We are coming out of COVID … so now is the point where we are officially launching in Michigan and, hopefully, reach out to the community to build some momentum here.”
People can RSVP for the launch event or contribute to it by going to Gleaners’ website, www.gcfb.org/hungermitao. Additional information is available at www.hungermitao.org.
“We learned about Feeding America and its 200 food banks across the country. It’s a very efficient system, and most ZIP codes are covered by the food banks,” said Anna. “Almost 24 million people in the country last year are food challenged. We never saw hunger living in the suburbs. The face of hunger in India was very different. We always associated hunger with homelessness, but 94% of people receiving aid in America have a permanent address. They might have just been affected by a layoff or health problem or are just underemployed.”
Both the Asavas and Aitchison said the need is very real and that it touches virtually every community in the United States.
“We know that more than 150,000 children and adults don’t have enough access to enough nutritious food, and they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. From Feeding America, their stats say 1 in 6 people may be facing food insecurity, and those numbers are 1 in 5 in southeast Michigan,” Aitchison said. “People being on fixed incomes means food insecurity is a common result. If there’s an illness in the family and someone can’t work or medical bills add up, the same thing happens. If people lose power and food goes bad after a storm or blackout, even that can harm a family on fixed incomes.”
The Asavas chose to focus on the Indian community, since they already had contacts there and were most familiar with it. They are now looking to spread their model of engaging the community and spreading awareness to other communities as well.
“Our mission is not just to get the Indian community engaged, but also to unify its giving,” added Anna. “If it becomes sporadic, it won’t have as much of an impact. Giving as one voice for one cause can raise awareness far more effectively.”
Register for the event today at gcfb.org!