By: Sahiti Hibane and Ria Kolluru
COVID-19 impacted America the most, affecting New Jersey (NJ) and New York more extremely. A nonprofit organization called Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) immediately realized the urgent need to take action against this advancing catastrophe. During mid-March, HSS formed a team in NJ to reach out to numerous nonprofits to form supportive hands. In three weeks, this team expanded across all ten Vibhags (zones)-seven states-of North-East America.
One hundred thirty organizations (HSS, Sewa International, Chinmaya Mission, etc.) and many volunteers, who were not from any organization, joined to collaborate and named this project “Sewa4Community”. Gaurav Singhal Ji, an HSS Karyakarta for the last 34 years, was also in this project to serve the NJ Vibhag. He recounted that Sewa4Community worked on six various areas: helping students, distributing groceries across the township, raising funds, and donating to food pantries. Since the food that was being distributed by food pantries increased 200 times due to COVID-19, countless people were unable to get food. Thus, Sewa4Community donated $150,000 to 43 food pantries in two months.
Sewa4Community also contributed through Mission Mask as many hospitals had a limiting mask supply. Supporting the hospitals in their capacity, 160 Sevikas (female volunteers) from NJ built around 12,000 handmade masks at their homes. The team has also been working on distributing masks (480 volunteers gave out masks to 43 hospitals) and serving meals to show gratitude to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Only HSS’s North East Sambhag’s volunteers were close to 498. Including volunteers from other organizations that were part of Sewa4Community summed up to around 1,000 people working on at least one of the six areas.
Nonetheless, Sewa4Community faced significant problems in three main areas: dealing with COVID affected patients, dead bodies, and distant people, but the volunteers overcame all these problems. Gaurav Ji explained, “Every person is trying to support in one way or the other. We have a huge amount of support from the whole society… 160 women made masks, and close to 120 were not from HSS or Sewa International. They were not from any (other) organizations either. So, they are the real people who really want to serve…”
When asked about his inspiration, Gaurav Ji solely points to HSS as a motivation to serve the community. He also says that he has learned a lot of lessons and mentions, “Lots of people have an idea of doing Sewa (service), have the skills that I can learn from, and can go out of their comfort zone. In extreme situations, they can handle it well.”. He also shares, “People always care [about their society], but sometimes they don’t find the medium to express it. So, COVID-19 will give that medium to them.”
Though Gaurav Ji has been coordinating at his zonal level, he emphasizes, “It’s always a team… I am just speaking on behalf of everyone. Everyone is coordinating in one area, and we are collectively coordinating the efforts. This is our Dharma and Sewa community effort done by people who believe in the idea of doing the right thing and service…”. The situation has been much better compared to that in March. However, it is always possible to make it even better. Gaurav Ji powerfully states, “…Together you can achieve everything.”. Hence, if we support and stand for each other, then we can overcome this pandemic.