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Sewa Diwali Brings Together Faith-based Organizations Across the U.S. to Combat Food Insecurity

Sewa Diwali Brings Together Faith-based Organizations Across the U.S. to Combat Food Insecurity

  • Based on the Dharmic belief that our well-being is influenced by the well-being of the community, the Hindu SwayamSevak Sangh brought together 200+ Dharmic organizations to contribute toward the welfare of their local towns/cities/neighborhoods.

We, the Hindu SwayamSevak Sangh (HSS, USA), love our neighbors of diverse faith traditions. The Hindu core teachings, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning the world is one family, and Sewa Paramo Dharma, meaning service to humanity is service to divinity, have guided many to dedicate themselves to the service of others.

Inspired by these core principles, volunteers of HSS from New Jersey started a food drive during the Hindu festival of Deepavali (or ‘Diwali’ colloquially) in 2018. They called it ‘Sewa Diwali.’ The mission of Sewa Diwali is to foster togetherness and Sewa (selfless giving) for the welfare of society, by promoting the festive and enlightening spirit of Diwali. This small, local community-based project initiated in 2018, proliferated into a nationwide drive by 2022. Since its inception, the SewaDiwali project has donated close to 1.5 Million pounds of food nationwide.

Diwali is a festival of great significance for all Dharmic faiths, which are Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh. “Parasparopagraho Jivanam” means all life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence. This ancient Jain scriptural aphorism is refreshingly contemporary in its premise and perspective. “What better way to start the Jain New Year, which is the day after Diwali, than by following the principles of Jainism of compassion and giving? So this Diwali let us all come together and take care of our local communities,” says Sonal Sanghani, a Jain community member    

By tugging at the common Dharmic philosophical thread that says our well-being is influenced by the well-being of the community, the 2022 Sewa Diwali project brought together 200+ Dharmic organizations to collaborate and contribute towards the welfare of their local towns/cities/neighborhoods. 

Sewa Diwali used a simple and effective method to expand its reach nationwide. It empowered volunteers of every partnering organization to act like a nucleus and incite the spirit of service within their sphere of influence.

High inflation is the word of the year 2022, which impacted the purchasing power of lower-middle America, further exacerbating the crisis of inaccessibility to affordable, nutritious food for those living in our community’s food deserts. This urgent need energized SewaDiwali 2022 teams across the U.S. 

Volunteers set up collection centers for canned and dried foods on their front porches, local grocery stores, temples, churches, and community gatherings like Garba Nights, Diwali Dhamaka, etc. They tapped into local and big chain grocery stores and used monetary donations to purchase fresh food at a bargain price. Canned and dried foods replenished stocks of local food pantries. Thoughtfully put together care packages of well-balanced, fresh produce and dried, canned goods were hand-delivered to communities living in food deserts.  

From east to west and north to south, across all major cities of the U.S., the Sewa Diwali food drive was organized. Serving together is a great way to learn about a specific faith tradition because interfaith communities provide safe environments and resources to build empathy between faiths and facilitate interfaith encounters. Here are a few examples of where interfaith communities across the U.S. came together to serve those in need: 

Bishop Ottis Blount, Greater Worship Kingdom Church, and Treehouse Cares, said, “We wanted to say thank you to the NJ Sewa Diwali team for coming and supporting us by donating all this food for our communities. This is great support for us and the kingdom’s work. God Bless.”

1,500 pounds of food collected by Sewa Diwali partners in Dallas which included members of the Interfaith Alliance of Irving: Sikh, Dawoodi Bohra, Baha’i, Hindu, and Zoroastrian faiths and members of Unification Church, Scientology Church, and Christ Church Irving. In the true spirit of unity in diversity, they collectively donated to IrvingCares. Additionally, this team collected and donated winter clothing to shelters.

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2000 pounds of hygiene and household products collected by Sewa Diwali, Indianapolis team in partnership with Carmel Interfaith Alliance. “All of these contributions go to three different food pantries in Hamilton county. This year’s specific goal was to raise awareness about hygiene and household items that are always in need. So we are so grateful for everyone’s contributions and wish everyone a Happy Holiday,” said Pastor Shelly Wood, President of Carmel Interfaith Alliance.

Aurora, IL Interfaith Food Pantry is facing a steep increase of about 91% more people having to access their pantry in 2022. In response, Balagokulam of Aurora and Naperville cities donated 3,918 pounds of food to the Interfaith food pantry to meet this increased demand.

We are so grateful for so many beautiful partnerships that were nurtured across all Dharmic and Abrahamic faith communities for collaborating to collect more than 630,000 pounds of food during Oct-Nov, 2022. Sewa is a great way to build harmonious bridges between communities. Sewa Diwali had a great start but our work continues.

There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet Joy. 

J.R. Sandadi is a long-time Carmel, Indiana resident. He migrated to the U.S. in the early 1990s and worked in the IT sector for 25 years before retiring from the corporate world. He volunteers his time with Hindu SwayamSevak Sangh (HSS, USA), and Sewa International USA. Sandadi is also involved with multiple interfaith initiatives across Indiana. He is a founding member of the Indiana Multi-faith Network.

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