ORLANDO, Fla. – For struggling Central Florida families, making sure their children are well-fed is something they worry about daily.
Many depend on their public schools for meal assistance but in some situations they do have to pay for breakfast and lunch, an additional expense they can’t always afford.
“I don’t do it to make myself feel good but I also, as a physician, you don’t like seeing people struggling,” Dr. Sundeep Ram, a traveling physician based in Orlando said.
He knows all too well the stress of being in debt.
“I accumulated quite a bit, six figures of debt,” he said.
After he earned his certification in internal medicine from the University of Pittsburgh and obtained an MBA from the University of Massachusetts, Ram ended up with a student loan debt of almost $200,000, which took him five years to pay off.
“That’s the reason why I focus on student causes because it was being a student that put me into that situation, and I don’t want other students to be in that situation as well,” he said. “Over the last several years, I’ve been donating 10% of my salary every year to charity, mainly student causes.”
He said he donates primarily to Penn State University where he was an EMT but most recently, he paid for the meal debt of almost $5,000 for Orange County Public schools. He also donated $4,500 to three elementary schools in Seminole County after the pandemic began.
“I noticed on our Facebook page, community Facebook page that they mentioned there was long lines out of the schools,” Ram said. “The long lines were so they could pick up, you know, breakfast and lunch for their kids. So, I said: ‘Well, let’s see if there’s any outstanding debt.’,”
The 41-year-old said his desire to give back comes from his father, a pediatrician in Erie, Pennsylvania where he grew up. He recalled when he was a child how his father helped an Amish family.
“My dad treated their kid-- saved their life actually, and it took two years but the mother, she hand quilted two comforters to pay him because they asked, ‘What do you want for payment?’ And my father said, ‘No way.’ And they gave her that,” he said.
For Ram, it’s about giving these families and their children a ray of hope.
“That’s what I wanted to focus here in the community, was that the students, you know, you have enough to worry about with education you shouldn’t have to worry about your next meal, and if I can help someone or we can help anyone through whatever means, you know, that’s what I want to do,” he said.
Ram is the chief medical officer for Alluriam, an Orlando-based organization that empowers communities to take charge of their health and wellbeing through an innovative information technology platform and integrated care teams.
He is also an internist who treats patients in rural hospitals of Wyoming, Nebraska and Mississippi.