Million Meals Mission Founder and Managing Director, Samay Bansal shares his story!
My name is Samay Bansal, and I am the Founder and Managing Director of Million Meals Mission.
The idea of “service” and “doing good” has been important to me my whole life. My high school in Singapore supported various international causes, which were colloquially known as “Global Concerns.” I’d spend my time thinking of exciting fundraisers or awareness campaigns to encourage our community to engage with philanthropy. My work as a young adult was empowering because I could see the impact we were creating in my community, even if it was in a small way.
Food has also been an important part of my life. I love the way a great meal brings people together and fosters exciting connections and conversations. In fact, most of my favorite memories involve sharing a meal with people. Traditional Indian food helps me feel connected to my roots, whereas delicious, local Singaporean food reminds me of home. Food transcends differences between people and serves as a uniting force. Though dishes and flavors vary across the world, the experience of having food with your loved ones universal, something everyone can relate to no matter who you are.
"The privilege of growing up food secure helped open my eyes to understanding that over 750 million people face severe food insecurity."
Growing up, I was fortunate enough not to worry about where my next meal would come from. I had the luxury of knowing that there’d be food in the fridge and that, if I wanted, I could go out to get some more food. The privilege of growing up food secure helped open my eyes to understanding that over 750 million people face severe food insecurity. Today, around 1 in 10 people experience hunger, the physical state of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food. It frustrated me knowing that there was more than enough food produced each year, but due to poor distribution and poverty, surplus food was being thrown away from the same restaurants I’d grown to love, while millions of people slept on empty stomachs.
In the summer of 2016, during the first half of my gap year, I decided to create a non-profit organization focused on providing meals to food-insecure communities. In 2020, I expanded our organization’s scope by including awareness raising and educational development in our mission statement.
So, why start Million Meals Mission?
I was inspired by The Shed that Fed a Million Children: The Extraordinary Story of Mary’s Meals and Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow’s work. His humble story of bringing donations from Scotland to Bosnia underscores the idea that making a difference is about taking the first step, and I wanted to do the same. Macfarlane-Barrow’s organization, Mary’s Meals, has grown tremendously in the past 33 years, and now provides millions of meals to children in a place of education each day.
"Specifically, I wanted Million Meals Mission to be a conduit between donors – individuals, social enterprises, and corporations – and small, grassroots organizations worldwide."
I was cognizant of the many existing organizations dedicated to alleviating food insecurity, including Rise Against Hunger, Feeding America, and Feed the Children. However, these organizations only fueled my desire to start my own NGO. A driving factor for my decision was my aim to create a “lean” non-profit organization. Specifically, I wanted Million Meals Mission to be a conduit between donors – individuals, social enterprises, and corporations – and small, grassroots organizations worldwide. In doing so, I could increase the donor pool for our recipients, highlight their work, and minimize managing asset expenses.
Fortunately, in 2016, I had two key resources: i) the time necessary to start building the organization and ii) my family’s support. The summers of 2016 and 2017 were dedicated to developing Million Meals Mission’s model. It changed drastically over the course of a single year. At first, I provided meals through a one-off free food distribution stall in Ludhiana, my family’s hometown in Punjab, Northern India. Such a roadside stall, offering meals to anyone and everyone, is known as “chhabeel” in Punjabi. Additionally, I used the rest of my summer in Ludhiana to provide sacks of rice and sugar to the leprosy colony, as well as biscuits to daily laborers. All in, we served around 5,000 meals in 2016.
In 2017, our model shifted to the one we employ today: a sustainable, monthly partnership with our core partner, Saadi Rasoi, also located in Ludhiana. Each month, we now provide 300-400 kg (660 – 880lbs) of rice, 300-400 kg (660 – 880lbs) of flour, and when necessary, oil, sugar, or ghee (desi oil). Saadi Rasoi provides free and subsidized meals to laborer communities in Ludhiana and to lower-income families waiting on loved ones at the city’s Civil Hospital. Looking to the future, I hope to increase our monthly contribution and add other partners in India.
First, 1,000,000 feels like a big number. Providing one million meals takes work and gave me an aspirational target to work towards. When MMM first started, I told myself, it’s my life goal to hit one million meals, no matter how long it takes. I was eager to reach my goal and worked hard whenever an opportunity presented itself. I promoted the organization, raised funds, shared my experience, and slowly chipped away at the target. Also, Million Meals Mission – and by extension, MMM – each have a nice ring to them!
Second, if I did reach 1,000,000 meals – which, with 216,000 meals delivered to date, we are on track to do – I’d most likely have created an organization that could achieve so much more. Mary’s Meals, for example, provides several million meals each day. The one million meals target presented itself as a challenge that needed well thought out, intentionally created systems. Therefore, 1,000,000 essentially serves as a ‘starting point’ for the work I anticipate we will do in the future.
When we reach one million meals, we have no intention of stopping. Our team is young, passionate, eager to tackle food insecurity, and motivated beyond belief. I am continually inspired by their commitment to the cause and their willingness to go above and beyond. None of our work would be possible without their efforts and my family and friends’ continuous support. I am especially grateful to my grandfather and mum, who are constantly working to support our efforts, establish relationships, keep in contact with our partners, and spread the word.
Million Meals Mission raises awareness about food insecurity and provides meals to food insecure communities around the world.
By supporting us, you can help us provide nutritious meals to countless people in need!