By: Pearl Raichura and Isha Shah
The COVID-19 pandemic led many people to lose their jobs and shelter in place with a fear of the future. The organization Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief Pennsylvania came to the aid of these people. A group of temples and local organizations called for action and created the Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief PA with Prasanna Ji Jog leading the way. There were over 25 Indian-American organizations that collaborated to support the efforts led by Prasanna Ji. Each of these organizations helped in their way, with some supplying volunteers and others spreading the news. Nearly 80 volunteers joined together to be a part of the various task forces that the organization had developed. The task forces were used to help seniors with their errands, deliver food to medical workers and first responders, supply masks to healthcare workers, and the local public, as well as establish a helpline for people to call. Also, Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief PA raised close to $45,000 for COVID-19 relief. They used about $8000 from the relief fund to purchase masks and ship them and donated the rest to food pantries, schools, and ISKCON temples. With these efforts, Prasanna Ji felt that he “was part of the solution” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To be an active “part of the solution,” the work had to be split up to allow the group to successfully and quickly bring aid to their community. To accomplish this, the organization created several “task forces” or smaller branches of the organization that focused on one aspect of the relief effort. The duties assigned to each member depended on the task force they were a part of. Volunteers recognized that some seniors would have trouble with their groceries in a pandemic and, as a result, created a task force that would assist senior citizens with buying and delivering groceries. Another task force was created to manage the costs and finances for the effort, while another was created to hand out personal protective equipment for those on the front lines and the hospitals that needed them. To provide these groups with more help, another task force was created to deliver food to first responders and hospital workers. The organization also created task forces that would help everyday citizens of the region and operate the group’s helpline, which created cloth masks for the people who needed them. Each of these jobs held its importance to the entire eastern PA region; it was up to each task force to ensure these tasks were completed.
As each of the task forces did their jobs, the volunteers also had to ensure that everything within the relief effort operated in a seamless manner. To maintain this smooth operation, the Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief PA held weekly group conferences for volunteers to discuss their completed tasks and future goals; they would also exchange information in order to keep the organization as transparent as possible to each of their volunteers. In addition, members would also talk about the amount of work they completed;
Prasanna Ji noted that if anyone completed fewer tasks than the others, they could be asked to assist or accompany someone else assigned to a minor job. This was done in order to ensure that all of the volunteers shared the work as equally as possible. In reality, some volunteers were able to complete more service work than others due to how the organization was structured.
The set-up of Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief PA was complicated at first but taught Prasanna Ji and his team many things. Due to the sheer number of people involved with the task forces, bringing everyone to come together and participate in a single weekly group meeting was a different experience for Prasanna Ji and his team. The steering committee occasionally struggled but was essential to the entire project. Because of this, the organization had to learn to structure and coordinate their actions. They saw that the project needed a lot of involvement, organization, clear communication, and time. Once, when Prasanna Ji and his team were calling an unaffiliated organization to ask if they wanted to help, there was a misunderstanding. The unaffiliated organization was mistakenly put on the Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief PA’s advertisement. When that organization saw the poster with their logo on it, they contacted Prasanna Ji’s group. That organization was subsequently removed from the poster and was not in contact with Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief. From this experience, Prasanna Ji learned how clear communication was necessary for Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief PA to run smoothly and used this lesson as he continued to run the organization.
The organization had a tremendous impact on the region with its aid to the local public, hospitals, and first-responders. Eastern Pennsylvania’s local communities greatly appreciated the efforts made by all of the task forces that Indian-Americans for COVID-19 PA established. The senior citizens who received groceries showed their appreciation by writing numerous cards and letters to the volunteers. Smaller hospitals were also thankful for the work of Indian-Americans for COVID-19 PA and SEWA international. They did not have easy access to proper medical-grade masks, and Indian-Americans for COVID-19 PA and SEWA international provided them with the masks that they needed. Prasanna Ji felt delighted with his project and said he “felt good about contributing to his community.” He and his colleagues that started Indian-Americans for COVID-19 PA were satisfied with the success that Indian-Americans for COVID-19 PA had achieved.
The notion of Sewa, or one’s duty to help society through selfless service, is clear from the work accomplished by the Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief PA. This effort consisted of 80 volunteers who were able to positively influence their community by providing aid to the people of the eastern Pennsylvania region. In Prasanna Ji’s words, the team of volunteers brought about a “sense of unity and trust,” even in a crisis. By delivering food, supplying masks, and assisting senior citizens, Indian-Americans for COVID-19 Relief could be a “part of the solution” and bring light to their community, even during a dark, fearful time.