Written By: Pearl Raichura and Isha Shah
The COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States with immense power as jobs were lost, poverty rates went up, and people were uncertain of the future. One person named Vishnu Yalamanchi Ji noticed what he called a “huge need in society,” and decided to do something about it. Vishnu Ji saw that many other organizations in his area wanted to help as well, but most either didn’t know how or had the resources available to help. So, he decided to bring the local organizations together to try to combine their assets. He worked with temples and linguistic groups like the Marathi Mandal and Gujarati Samaj, who were already attempting to do some work independently. He joined them together to gain a more extensive volunteer base and make a more substantial impact. Vishnu Ji then contacted SEWA International and worked with them to help the Southern California region by providing them with food, groceries, medicine, housing, and personal protection equipment.
After partnering with SEWA International, Vishnu Ji contacted several local Southern California organizations and sent them letters asking whether they wanted to join a more significant volunteer effort. Through his letters, he was also able to ask about what provisions these smaller organizations would need to carry out their volunteer work. Upon receiving a response, Vishnu Ji then compiled the information into a request sent directly to SEWA International. The large non-profit humanitarian organization would then provide the conglomerate with the supplies needed to accomplish their goals. As a result, the group’s connection to SEWA International was precious, and without it, many of the organization’s service projects would not have been as successful.
One of the cooperative’s initial projects was to provide hot meals to the people at the WISEplace Shelter in Santa Ana, California. Vishnu Ji noticed that the regular volunteers stopped showing up due to the threat of contracting COVID-19, although it was a time where community service was needed the most. So, he decided to deploy his volunteer network to that shelter to provide them with hot meals. This was not a one-time occurrence: the cooperative continued to give the residents of the sanctuary with cooked meals multiple times to ensure that those in need were taken care of.
In addition to providing hot meals at shelters, Vishnu Ji’s group offered fresh groceries and delivered medicine to those who needed it. The COVID-19 pandemic increased travel restrictions while leaving many college students with nowhere to go. Due to this predicament, there was a great need for groceries for these students, as they were unable to leave during the pandemic and get the groceries themselves. As a result, the cooperative’s volunteers purchased groceries for the college students and delivered them to their homes to assure that they were receiving the food that they needed. The COVID-19 pandemic created many similar problems for other groups of people as well. In schools, some students receive free or reduced-price lunches; with the cancellation of in-person schooling, some of these students became unable to eat. To help, Vishnu Ji’s group developed a drive-thru for people who typically relied on the schools for food to pick up groceries. The volunteers purchased food from grocery stores and made bags that had a few general groceries in them, and then handed them out to people through their cars so they would not be exposed to the virus. The nature of COVID-19 made it difficult for people to leave their homes, and the primary concern of many immunocompromised people was accessing their necessary medicine without being exposed to the virus. To solve this, Vishnu Ji’s team of volunteers brought people’s medicine to them. People who were at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 contacted Vishnu Ji’s group and supplied them with their needs and their prescription information. Then, the volunteers purchased that person’s prescription and delivered it to their home to help them stay away from the virus. For some, receiving their medicine was a matter of life-or-death, and the valiant volunteers from Vishnu Ji’s conglomerate of organizations provided them with some much-needed help.
The collection of organizations also helped those who were trapped in the country. Due to the cancelation of flights and restrictions on travel caused by COVID-19, people visiting from countries abroad would have no way to return back home, leaving them stuck in the United States. As many of these stranded people could not afford an extended stay in the country without any work, this was a major problem. Thus, the conglomerate of volunteer organizations helped to provide these people with places to stay. Upon receiving information about anyone who was “trapped,” Vishnu Ji and his associates worked to find someone willing to provide housing. In addition, the volunteer team provided some extra food to these people to ensure that they were able to sustain themselves in a stressful period of time. If not for the volunteers’ efforts, those forced to extend their visit to the United States would have faced a great deal of difficulty.
The group was also able to offer support to doctors and hospitals. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to personal protection equipment (PPE) was scarce. There were not enough medical-grade masks for doctors in some hospitals, so Vishnu Ji connected with SEWA International to be able to supply masks to these doctors. The volunteers of the cooperative contacted local hospitals and took surveys on what the doctors needed and reported that to the coordination group to procure the masks from SEWA International. With the new supply of masks, the doctors were extremely grateful for the protection against COVID-19 so they could continue to help people in need.
A pair of volunteers delivering personal protection equipment to a doctor.
All of these successful attempts to provide the Southern California community with aid were only possible because of the group’s efforts. While a few volunteers were originally hesitant to leave the safety of their own homes, organization members eventually grew more emboldened as time passed. Vishnu Ji noted that this was likely due to a shift in perspective;
volunteers realized that the more people that participated in the conglomerate’s activities, the greater the impact they would have on the community. A similar pattern was evident in the organization’s fund collection: the group initially had difficulty with raising money for their cause, but by late July, they had raised roughly $50,000. Once again, Vishnu Ji mentioned how this was because of the visible impact of their volunteer work. The more the organization accomplished, the more support they received; the more support they received, the more the group could accomplish. This repeating cycle allowed the volunteers to overcome their initial challenges and ultimately affect the region in a positive way.
The “bound duty to serve the community in need” ideology led by Vishnu Ji and his fellow volunteers to help many people in Southern California during a time when the community was certainly in need. From providing groceries, medicine, housing, and personal protective equipment to the people who needed them, the conglomerate partnered with SEWA International contributed their time to help those who were suffering due to the effects of a devastating pandemic.