Rialto resident, Chandrasekar Venkatraman, president of India Association of Inland Empire (IAIE), has been busy volunteering, coordinating and fundraising to ensure 1,500 residents of San Bernardino and Riverside counties receive a hot meal everyday, in response to COVID-19.
The initiative, an effort in conjunction with United Sikh Mission (USM), not only feeds hot meals to those in need, but also to healthcare workers.
“Initially, we wanted to try and feed 10 people everyday of the week and then we elevated it up to 25 people per day. I then leveraged my network and connected with USM, who was then serving 175 meals per day…Now together, we’re serving as many as 14,000 hot meals per week,” said Venkatraman.
Also a senior program manager for Veolia North America, he said he has received the enthusiastic support of his colleagues, supervisors and supporters at VNA, where he handles a portfolio of major engineering and construction projects.
He said that at the start of the pandemic, he reached out to his manager and inquired about volunteering on behalf of IAIE, to assist USM handle, package and distribute food.
“Just tell me how I can help,” Venkatraman said he was told by his managers when he asked if he could focus on the volunteer work during this critical time. “I was brought up on ‘purpose before self’ so this is just the right thing to do. The more we help each other, the stronger we’ll be when we come out of this.”
“Now, I’m mainly focused on fundraising efforts to keep the program going. We hope to continue providing hot meals for as long as we possibly can,” continued Venkatraman.
He stated that initially, their group was handing out boxes of food to those in need, but they encountered a major problem.
“There are still a lot of fellow citizens without permanent homes. Even now in Redlands, it’s sad to see so many people without homes. It truly shows how much more privileged and fortunate many of us are, because It’s easy to say, ‘let’s give them a big box of pasta,’ but they don’t have anywhere to store the food. Some of their items of food would rot because they do not haven anywhere to store it and that’s left a mark on me,” Venkatraman said.
So in response to much initial feedback from those in need, the organization’s re-strategized and determined that the best method was to provide hot meals for instant consumption, rather than distribute boxes of food.
“The response we have received from members of the community has filled me with absolute gratitude. It’s the happiness of seeing someone say, okay, today’s meal is covered and we’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. When you can relieve someone of stress for 24 hours, it’s very satisfying. But, we still have several community members who need assistance,” said Venkatraman.
The IAIE and USM are still seeking volunteers for distribution and donations. For more information on volunteer opportunities or to receive assistance, contact India Association of Inland Empire on Facebook.