A Token of Gratitude: Jitender Ji’s Annapurna Initiative

Written By: Ved Pimple and Udhav Sharma

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a drastic toll on the safety and welfare of medical professionals. Every day, healthcare workers put their lives at risk, serving the patients diagnosed with the COVID-19. One volunteer, Jitender Sandadi Ji, identified an opportunity to showcase the public’s gratitude towards healthcare workers. From Carmel, Indiana, Jitender Sandadi Ji, known as JR by his tight-knit community, is a head of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) chapter of Indiana and Kentucky. 

Initially, this pandemic took a hard toll on the region. However, Jitendra Ji wanted to dispel the fear and worked to spread positivity during these unprecedented times. Well connected with the healthcare field himself, Jitendra Ji wished to express gratitude towards the doctors and medical professionals at work during the dangerous pandemic. Jitendra Ji originally started a small initiative within Chetak Vibhag itself to deliver food and thank you cards to the hospitals that were working hard to fight the pandemic. This initiative was called Annapurna, a tribute to the Hindu goddess of nourishment and revitalization. Having secure connections with other organizations, Jitendra Ji posted the information about this initiative into a WhatsApp group chat that consisted of many leaders from various interfaith and linguistic organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Al-Salam Foundation, and SEWA International. Inspired by this small initiative, the leaders of the other organizations volunteered to contribute to this project. What started as a little grassroots effort within Chetak Vibhag became a widespread undertaking to express gratitude to the hard-working community. Coordinated through WhatsApp by Jitendra Ji, the organizations raised $21,000 to purchase food from local Indian restaurants and deliver them to the hospitals. This ultimately supported the local Indian restaurants, which had been devastated by the pandemic as well. 

The project served the staff of 9 hospitals in the Indianapolis Metropolitan area, which had been working hard to help the COVID-19 patients, including the Community Hospital North ER Staff, Fransiscan Health Indianapolis Cancer Staff, etc. Jitendra Ji assigned specific days through WhatsApp for each organization to deliver hot meals to the hospitals. Volunteers from the various organizations called the local Indian restaurants two days before to prepare about 50-60 hot, gourmet meals for the hospital. The restaurant employees helped pack the meals in the vans of the volunteers so they could be delivered to the hospital. Seventeen brave volunteers helped send and provide the meals to the hospital staff. Along with the meals, many children wrote letters and drew colorful pictures to keep the medical staff motivated. To keep everything sanitized, the ER staff had two trolleys that they used to send food inside. Most of the ER staff work on a 36-hour shift and don’t get very many breaks. This was a very lovely and well-deserved break for all of them, but where did the inspiration for this project come from?

His inspiration comes from a friend of his, who, in fact, is an ER doctor as well. His friend let him know the dire conditions of the ER staff, and how many cases poured in every day. What started out as just a few lunches for the staff turned into lunch for over 70 physicians. In order to pull this off, he partnered with multiple organizations that were equally focused on giving back to the community. He wants to continue doing this with as many organizations as possible and is always looking for critical inspirations. 

He is getting ready for the backpack challenge to help the Million Meals Organization. Million Meals is a yearly food fundraising event held to help feed our neighbors in need and raise awareness about food insecurity. Sponsored by Arvest Bank, the fundraising event is held to help feed those in need and raise awareness about food insecurity. The annual backpack challenge is a fundraiser for many of the kids that need school supplies such as backpacks, binder paper, calculators, etc. Though it ushered in a dark period in his community, Jitendra ji observed that COVID-19 brought his community closer than ever, and he wants to continue donating and helping others.

This article was written in the summer of 2020 as part of a student internship program.