Askinosie Chocolate Expands Lunch Program

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Not chocolate rice. Not puffed rice in chocolate. Just rice.
No, not to you. The award-winning Springfield-based chocolate company will be using proceeds from two of its products to fund school lunch programs in villages in Tanzania and the Philippines.

The PTA's at Mwaya Secondary School in the Kyela region of Tanzania and Malagos Elementary School in Davao, Philippines, harvested two of Askinosie's latest products, Premium Kyela Rice and Tableya hot chocolate, respectively. In return, Askinosie will sell both products at a considerable markup and donate the profits to the schools, which will provide lunch for their students.

Askinosie has had a long history of using chocolate (and now rice) to help communities, first in its own neighborhood in Springfield and then in the villages in Africa, the Philippines and Central America where it sources its cocoa beans.

The lunch program began in 2011 when Askinosie founder Shawn Askinosie was on a business trip to Davao. He met with the administrators and PTA leaders of Malagos Elementary School and learned that malnutrition was a major problem: In addition to being hungry and underweight, the kids were also more susceptible to getting sick and missing school. What would really help, the adults at Malagos Elementary said, was a lunch program to make sure the kids would get at least one decent meal every day.

In order to raise money to finance the lunch program, Askinosie contracted the PTA to manufacture tableya, a traditional Filipino hot chocolate sold in tablet form. Askinosie buys the tableya from the PTA for $1 a package, sells it in its factory in Springfield and online for $10 and uses the $9 profit to fund the lunch program. The profit from one package of Askinosie Tableya is enough for 70 lunches. Convoy of Hope, a Springfield-based nonprofit, has been helping to monitor the kids' weight gain and attendance; so far, Askinosie reports, they've had a 90 percent success rate with the weight gain.

"It may sound complicated, but it isn't," Askinosie says. "Simply put, we are providing each PTA access to a market to sell their quality product and fund their student lunch programs, which we helped create."

The success at Malagos Elementary inspired Askinosie to try the same thing at Mwaya Secondary School in Tanzania, only with rice. (And, yes, Premium Kyela Rice is Askinosie's only non-chocolate product.) The company pays $1.50 for each 2.2-pound bag of rice and sells it for $16.50. The $15 profit pays for 220 meals.

The rice was packaged in Tanzania last summer by Mwaya students and staff, as well as American students in Askinosie's Chocolate University program and shipped back to Springfield with the cocoa beans. (A note on the Askinosie website notes that it's advisable to rinse the rice before cooking because the bags of rice may contain tiny rocks.)

And, no, the kids don't get chocolate for lunch. As in Davao, their meals will consist of healthy, locally sourced meals prepared by the PTA members.


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