When Anakh Sawhney and Prabir Sawhney were young, they remember feeling emotional when they encountered people who were less fortunate than them.
“We grew up in a house that valued sharing what we had with others,” says Anakh, 14. “We started donating to food drives and volunteering at fundraisers and soup kitchens but realized that many of these places were mostly donating boxed and canned foods or food that was not very balanced or nutritious.”
In 2018, when they were 6 and 9, the Bernardsville brother and sister decided to help in their own way. They launched the Pranakh Foundation—an homage to their names—to manage their nonprofit Rice Kids. “We started the organization to serve hot, nutritious meals directly to people who were on the streets, in homeless shelters or through distribution centers,” says Prabir, 11.
Through Rice Kids, the siblings work with local communities and volunteers to cook hot meals, pack them in containers and serve or deliver them to people within hours of cooking. To streamline the process, they schedule “cook-off” days at community kitchens at churches, shelters and Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) to prepare and pack meals based on hot rice for distribution.
“We make sure it is a balanced diet, with cooked rice, a protein like chicken or lentils, a vegetable, a drink and a dessert,” says Anakh. “We decided to base the dishes on rice since it is one of the most nutritious and balanced grains, a staple for many. It is easy to cook and makes for a wonderful hot meal enjoyed by everyone.”
The Bernardsville Middle School students have taken their work to far-flung streets within the United States and India. They started projects in India and ramped up during the pandemic to help struggling families who lost their breadwinners, were facing financial distress or did not have access to food due to lockdowns. They are looking to expand to Africa and other places in Asia.
Since a key goal is to give kids the opportunity to experience first-hand the benefits of being altruistic, the Sawhney siblings partner with schools and organizations that share their vision of creating “The Giving Generation.” They raise money for supplies by talking about their work in the community and at other nonprofits.
Anakh and Prabir love it when their friends and classmates get involved. “We told them that our ultimate goal was to end the hunger crisis,” says Anakh. “There are a lot of ways kids of all ages can get involved: They could cook and serve meals, donate their birthday money, help with the website, do social media promotion or even help us run operations and finances.”
One of their favorite memories happened during the initial days when they were in India, and they witnessed resilience at an orphanage and school for blind kids. “Despite all the adversities, the kids were smiling and happy, which really touched us,” Prabir says.
“The kids were having fun playing sports and reading braille; they were so smart,” Anakh says. “It showed us that no matter your circumstances, you can keep going.”
They say such experiences are humbling. “We are more grateful for what we have. We have built so many relationships along the way,” Anakh says. “We can definitely be happy with how blessed we are.”
To find out more about donating or volunteering, visit RiceKids.org.