Indian Sikh Community Provides Hot Vegetarian Food for Victims of Hurricane Sandy

Sikh volunteers serving vegetarian food. (Photo: RAMAA REDDY RAGHAVAN)

It has been more than two weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit and there are still thousands of people stranded without power in New York and New Jersey. That makes Sandy one the most destructive natural disasters to hit the Northeast.

Volunteers from all walks of life have stepped up to help. Among them are the United Sikhs; an Indian Sikh community whose outreach efforts have touched people in areas like Hoboken, Newark, Manhattan and Queens. In these neighborhoods, still disfigured by flooding, the Sikh’s—characterized by men wearing turbans—arrive with steaming lentils, rice and vegetables.

The group United Sikhs, have been coordinating their Hurricane relief activities with the Office of Emergency Management and NYC’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, to identify areas of greatest need. On an average they have been distributing  as many as 1500 meals a day. They were one of the first to go out to feed the displaced in Far Rockaway.

Jaggit Singh, a volunteer, said, “People were very desperate there. and they were so happy to see us. So anytime now when we go to Far Rockaway or go to shelters they see a turban they know help is here, food is here. That brings big smiles to their faces”.

Listen to Ramaa’s piece from PRI’s The World here:

Jagjit Singh at the St. Francis de Sales Church in Rockaway (Photo: RAMAA REDDY RAGHAVAN)

The main hall of the St. Francis de Sales Church, located in Belle Harbor in the Rockaway peninsular, was turned 10 days ago into a collection center filled with water, clothes and canned food. Last week a Nor’easter hurled another punch at this already devastated area. The residents, mainly of Irish descent, welcomed the Sikhs with their stainless steel containers of hot food. But it has not always been this way. Since 9/11 Sikh’s have been targeted as being associated with terrorist groups.

For the Sikhs, the serving of free vegetarian food, or Langar as they call it, is an important tenet of their religion. The food is cooked in Sikh temples, mainly by women and distributed by men.Brian Lydon, a church volunteer, said many immigrant groups like the Turkish, Korean, Irish and local Italians all came out to help.

“Very impressed by the effort. Amazed. Columbians were here with food trucks, Koreans here with Kimchi taco trucks. Everybody was doing everything in a difficult environment.”

Despite the storm, the spirits of residents in Far Rockaway has not been dampened. Anthony Di Carlo, an NYPD detective and volunteer, said, “We got through many other things . We got through  9/11, got through the plane crash. It’s a tragedy but we’ll get though it.”

The Sikhs still continue to travel into areas where the need for food exists. As recovery efforts in some areas are slow, it looks like they will be needed for some time.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.