Pacoima Gurudwara: Feeding the Poor and Needy

By Nikhil Misra-Bhambri

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Pacoima Gurudwara: Feeding the Poor and Needy
Since April 11, the Khalsa Care Foundation has distributed more than 200,000 hot meals at no cost to low-income people, those with disabilities, and to homeless shelters. Courtesy of Khalsa Care Foundation.
At the end of August, the U.S. recorded approximately six million COVID-19 cases and more than 180,000 deaths; by mid-September, that number climbed to 192,000. From this number, sadly, Los Angeles County accounts for almost 240,000 cases and more than 5700 deaths, the most of any county in California. This outbreak has uprooted the lives of many people who were already struggling to make ends meet, but some community organizations have stepped up to meet the challenge and help their neighbors. Pacoima’s Khalsa Care Foundation, a Sikh Gurudwara (the Sikh name for the equivalent of a church or temple), has had a long tradition of practicing its religion’s core teaching of assisting people in need and, in the midst of the COVID-19 upheaval, their food pantry and Hot Meal program has provided food and groceries to some of the neediest families throughout Los Angeles. Gurudwara, which translates as “doorway to the Guru” in Punjabi, is the Sikh house of prayer. Along with worship, Gurudwaras are places of “Seva” or selfless service. Specifically, this means giving to the community and expecting nothing in return. This can involve volunteering within the Gurudwara or assisting the greater community in times of need. Langar, or community kitchen, is one of the most important forms of “Seva.” As part of this tradition, a free Indian vegetarian meal is served by Gurudwara volunteers to all visitors, regardless of their economic status, religion or ethnicity. During the pandemic, the concepts of Seva and Langar have become the basis of the Sikh community’s support to the needy throughout Los Angeles. According to Jaspreet Sethi, a leading member of the Khalsa Care Foundation, “the fundamental belief of all Sikhs is that we are here to make the world a better place. You have to start with the local community which is Los Angeles. Our thinking is, this is where our kids will grow up. We want to make it a better place, so our kids will grow up in a better environment and community.”
Courtesy of Khalsa Care Foundation.
Since 2012, the Gurudwara has hosted a Food Pantry every Friday that provides groceries for low-income families in the San Fernando Valley. Prior to COVID, the Pantry would package 20,000 pounds of food. Since the onset of the pandemic, the need for food has risen by 500%. Amazingly, the Gurudwara has gone from serving 100 to 500 families a week.

On April 11, 2020, the Khalsa Care Foundation started its Hot Meal Program. Jaspreet Singh said, “We knew people were losing their jobs, and that unemployment was at its highest. We asked ourselves, what can we do to help our city that has shut down?”

The Gurudwara is the place where the Sikh community congregates to pray, eat and meditate. But when Mayor Eric Garcetti reached out through his Office of Disability to ask for help in feeding disabled people who could not leave their homes even to get groceries, the Pacoima Gurudwara stepped up. Since April 11, the Khalsa Care Foundation has made and distributed more than 200,000 hot meals at no cost to lo- income people, those with disabilities, and to homeless shelters.
“While we could not congregate in the Gurudwara, we still made an effort to have the Gurudwara as a center of where initiatives were being launched to remind ourselves of the blessings given by our faith and Waheguru (God),” Sethi stated. “Through the Hot Meal Program, we committed to making the maximum impact with our tradition of Langar, or free community kitchen. Interestingly, while this started as a Sikh community initiative, now 80% of the volunteers are non-Sikh. Singh continued, “We have 50-60 volunteers every day who come to pack meals. People from all walks of life come together to make a difference.”

Local Sikhs have used the Covid quarantine as an opportunity to expand the practice of two of their most important religious teachings, “Seva” and “Langar.” Furthermore, they have engaged the greater.

Sethi concluded by saying, “Seva can be done now during the pandemic or when there is no pandemic. That is what we have been taught our whole life. We learned from our own history. Our gurus sacrificed their own lives to help others, whether it was by giving money, food, or their time. Money is not the only way to donate.”

In the Pacoima Gurudwara, what started as a Sikh model of sharing and serving is now a model for the larger community.

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