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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, February 25, 2024

Million Meals Mission launches 1 of 2 university pilot chapters at Tufts

A promotional image for the Million Meals Mission is pictured.

Million Meals Mission, an organization committed to raising money and providing meals to impoverished communities, with the ultimate goal of achieving a world free of global and systemic food insecurity, has launched a chapter at Tufts.

MMM was founded by Samay Bansal, a senior at Cornell, during a pre-college gap year. He met Tufts student Uzair Sattar, director of education at MMM, on the first day of their Global Orientation pre-orientation program. Bansal attended Tufts before transferring to Cornell. 

“[Samay and I] exchanged hellos, and I asked him what he wanted to do in college (expecting a simple ‘I major in XYZ’ answer like all the other students I had asked),” Sattar, a senior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “But to my surprise, he replied, ‘I want to feed a million people.’” 

MMM became a 501(c)(3) nongovernmental organization in the summer of 2020 and is now piloting university chapters at Tufts and Cornell. 

Arjun Padalkar, one of two executive directors of strategy at MMM, has been part of the efforts to get a chapter established at Tufts.

“One of those nine departments [of MMM] is called campus relations," Padalkar, a senior, said. "Its purpose is to set up these chapters across the country. [We currently have chapters at] only Tufts and Cornell as pilot organizations and then hopefully we [will] roll it out to anybody who wants to start one of these drives in their university.” 

Padalkar expanded on what the goal of the Tufts chapter is.

“The purpose of the Tufts chapter is specifically to combat local food insecurity in the Medford/Somerville or local Massachusetts area [and] build that conversation at Tufts about the larger mission … that the HQ level is doing,” Padalkar said. 

Padalkar explained that the organization is currently working under the Leonard Carmichael Society, as well as the MMM headquarters, but has plans to be an independent organization in the future.

“Hopefully within a year we'll become independent; the chapter becomes independent of the HQ organization,” Padalkar said. “It just uses the advice of the HQ and then deals with its own donations.” 

Cymroan Vikas, the other executive director of strategy at MMM, shared her optimism about the success of the first two pilot chapters and plans for further expansion. 

“We are very keen on expanding the Chapter program so that we can get more people involved,” Vikas wrote in an email to the Daily. “We expect to use the Tufts and Cornell chapters’ success as a benchmark or an example for future chapters.”

The Tufts MMM chapter does not follow a one-size-fits all approach, but rather, allows students to tailor their experience to their own interests to work on projects that are directly pertinent to their academic areas of study or future career aspirations.

“The responsibilities mainly are dependent on the kind of skills that you want to bring to the table,” Padalkar said. 

Padalkar also emphasized the seriousness of commitment to MMM, especially since it is all volunteer-based.

Vikas spoke to the importance of the issue MMM is trying to combat.

“I think we should care about food insecurity because it is a global challenge, whose impacts span several geographies and multiple socioeconomic and political systems,” Vikas said. “Food insecurity occurs when people are unable to access safe, sufficient, affordable and nutritious food.”

She added that food insecurity is present not only in impoverished regions of the world, but also in higher-income countries, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity around the world.

Sattar echoed Vikas and further explained food insecurity. 

“Today, there is more food available on earth than our collective population’s requirement, meaning that food security isn’t so much an issue of absolute scarcity but rather, a misdistribution and misallocation of resources,” Sattar said. 

Sattar also mentioned that MMM works in U.S. dollars, a currency with a much greater relative value than some currencies in other parts of the world and spoke to how MMM can use this to its advantage in the work it’s doing.

“What this tells us is that students can leverage their position in relative wealthier countries (such as the US) to fundraise much more effectively than organizations [in] relatively poorer countries,” Sattar said. “Therefore, just the fact that we live in the US allows us to have a far greater impact in alleviating global food insecurity than what we may realize.”

Vikas expanded on the importance of students to the advancement of MMM’s mission.

“The [organization] was started by a student, continues to have students and ex students who have recently graduated as volunteers,” Vikas said. “It is so often the case that university students have both the time or interest and an amazing willingness, determination and passion to make an impact on the world around them, especially those who have/have had the privilege of going to university and learning about global systemic challenges.”

She pointed out that MMM’s progress as an organization thus far is completely attributable to the work of students.

“The success of MMM so far has been underpinned by university students’ passion and interest, and we want to fan that flame to achieve our vision of eradicating global, systemic food insecurity,” Vikas said.