Written By: Neelakshi Iyer (Grade 11) and Ananya Goel (Grade 12)
Manhattan has been one of the hardest-hit cities during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the peak of the crisis, the city’s iconic streets, once bustling with swarms of pedestrians and yellow taxicabs, were nearly unrecognizable. According to The City Newspaper, the borough of Manhattan alone had over 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,100 deaths as of July 2020.
During these difficult times, the Manhattan chapter of Hindu YUVA, an organization of Hindu college students and young professionals, stepped forward to serve New Yorkers affected by the pandemic. Starting at the end of May, the group organized a five-week food drive to provide lunchtime meals for essential workers in Manhattan. They donated meals to a total of 144 people, while simultaneously supporting local restaurants in the area.
One of the project coordinators, Sumedh Deshpande, said that Hindu YUVA was inspired to start this food drive after a volunteer started a similar effort in New Jersey and mobilized 500 families in providing food and masks. Deshpande and other volunteers saw the tremendous need for such initiatives in Manhattan and quickly started recruiting volunteers, raising funds, and identifying beneficiaries. A total of 21 young professionals were involved with the project.
“We hope that Hindu YUVA Manhattan will continue to be involved in community service, even after the COVID-19 crisis ends,” Deshpande said.
As hygiene and social distancing are of the utmost importance in preventing the spread of COVID, the volunteers decided to donate meals that would be purchased and delivered by professional restaurants, rather than personally deliver homemade meals. Smitha Mirajkar, another Hindu YUVA volunteer, helped liaise with local restaurants for the food drive. She coordinated lunchtime pizza delivery to five different essential service locations in Manhattan, including a fire department, a US postal service location, a hospital, and the Department of Sanitation. Mirajkar collected donations from other volunteers to cover the cost of the meals. Several pizzerias generously offered discounts for meals intended for essential workers.
Mirajkar said that she was looking for a way to do something for those affected by COVID-19. Hindu YUVA’s project appealed to her because it offered an opportunity to give back while still maintaining physical distancing during the pandemic. Mirajkar said that the volunteers received many grateful responses from the essential workers they served, which motivated the volunteers to do more.
Shakti Sharma, a Hindu YUVA volunteer who helped coordinate donations, said that he envisioned the food delivery project as one that would “strengthen ties between essential workers and the local community.” Sharma’s role in this food drive was to track donations and share weekly progress reports with volunteers and donors. He said that he was inspired to do something for frontline workers after observing the tremendous stress they faced during the pandemic. Hindu YUVA’s efforts were an attempt to relieve some of that stress and increase the community’s feelings of interconnectedness.
This food drive was Hindu YUVA Manhattan’s first community service project during the pandemic. Sharma said that this project was a way for the volunteers to display their love and care for their city of Manhattan and that volunteers are excited to engage with the community for future projects.
Choi, Ann, et al. “Coronavirus in New York City.” The City, 24 July 2020, projects.thecity.nyc/2020_03_covid-19-tracker/.
Social Media Post
During the COVID pandemic, Hindu YUVA Manhattan donated lunch to 144 firefighters, medical professionals, and other essential workers to express the community’s gratitude and appreciation.