PACOIMA, CA - A line began forming outside of Gurdwara Khalsa Care Foundation (KCF) starting at 8 AM. The Holiday event was not going to start for another 3 hours, but people were excited and the entire community of Pacoima, California had been talking about the program for weeks.
The Sikh community in the US has done an amazing job at sustaining the core Sikh institution of langar. Across many Gurdwaras of the US, sevadars prepare langar on a weekly or daily basis, and everyone who comes is able to partake in pangat and sangat.
The answers to the above 3 questions made us realize that our current langar is not really feeding the hungry, but rather feeding the well-fed!
As a result, about a decade ago, the Sikh Community of Los Angeles began participating in toy and food giveaway programs in downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row. It was an eye-opening experience to see the desperate conditions of the homeless and to hear their stories. It was an annual reminder to be thankful for all that we are given and a reminder about what is important in life. Many Sikh children who participated were moved by the experience and wrote college application essays and blog articles about the inspiring day. Despite all of the outreach Sikhs have done, we continue to face hate crimes, school bullying, and other harassment. For example, just over a year ago, an individual full of hatred entered into a Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and fatally shot six people and wounded four others. Much of this hatred comes from not knowing who we are. We began brainstorming, how can we make people aware that our doors are open? How can we have people of the community get to know us as fun-loving seva-oriented humans? How can we break the ice so they are comfortable asking us questions about our identity? KCF came up with an amazing solution.
On 14 Dec., with over 1,000 people in line outside the Gurdwara, the gates were opened, and everyone was met with a smile and welcomed to the Khalsa Care Foundation Carnival. In the weeks prior, sevadars had worked tirelessly contacting neighboring food pantries, homeless shelters, and schools to really identify those families who needed some extra help this holiday season. Over 150 sevadars ranging from age four to 80 were standing ready to host the 1500 guests at the Khalsa Care Foundation.
The guests were served popcorn, cotton candy, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and ice cream all while they enjoyed the bouncy house, basketball shootout game, football toss game, ring toss, face painting, and many more games and activities. Some of our guests came on wheel-chairs, some walked hours to get to the carnival, and others took the bus. Towards the end of the carnival, we held a raffle for a $250 target gift card and we gave each family a toy bag, a food bag, and a winter warmth bag.
As our guests looked into their bags to see blankets, socks, gloves, beanies, soccer balls, stuffed animals, a remote control car, canned foods, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and many more items, they were speechless. Some of the guests cried, some hugged us, and some stayed to help clean up afterwards. Everyone, sevadars and guests, left with huge smiles on their faces