“I just wanted to say thank you again for the portable charger. I need to keep my phone charged in case my kids need me… You really have no idea how much this helps me out,” says Angel, as a Community Seva volunteer hands over a mobile solar charger to her at a homeless encampment.
To most of us, a dying phone battery is a minor inconvenience with an easy solution – we can just plug it in and go about our day. That simple act is an impossibility for nearly ten thousand unhoused individuals living in the Bay Area. The number of difficulties that they face every day is nearly impossible to comprehend, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. With no access to news media or health guidelines, many unhoused people weren’t even aware of the pandemic for a long time. Already lacking proper healthcare, nutrition, and sanitation, the pandemic has exponentially worsened the lack of access to toilets, water, and fresh food. Beyond the direct risk of infection, which is already much higher for unhoused individuals, they have no shelter to ‘shelter-in-place’, and are left with no ability to even maintain basic hygiene. The homelessness problem is increasing dramatically now that many more people are losing their jobs, and hundreds have been recently forced out of their homes and onto the street.
Community Seva, a non-profit organization based in the Evergreen area of San Jose, has aimed to alleviate some of the struggles that these individuals face. Community Seva’s mission is to “Feed the Hungry & Serve the Homeless”. Since 2013, Community Seva Inc. has served over 150,000 meals, distributed over 7,000 backpacks filled with winter essentials, delivered 6,000 hygiene kits, and given over 1,000 showers to the homeless population in the Bay Area. During the 12 weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic began alone, the organization has served more than 12,000 healthy, nutritious, and freshly-cooked meals to the people living in 7 different shelters, 5 encampments, and even to individuals who have been forced to live in their cars or RVs. The challenges faced by the homeless community are growing, but as Community Seva founder Nathan Ganeshan says, “Together we can, and we are, making a difference!”
Community Seva has launched a new set of initiatives to respond to the recent needs of the homeless community. As members of the homeless community have lost access to places where they could charge their phones due to the shelter-in-place order, they raised funds to purchase and distribute solar power chargers: giving unsheltered individuals the ability to call 911, use flashlights, and thus better protect themselves.
Further, Community Seva Inc. began a new program to help women in these difficult times. They packed and delivered female care hygiene kits to the nearly 3,600 vulnerable homeless women living in the Bay Area. Volunteers entered homeless encampments in an effort to clean up living spaces, throw out trash, and distribute food, hygiene kits, and backpacks with essentials such as blankets, towels, beanies, socks, and rain ponchos. They also distributed Personal Protective Equipment: 400 gloves, masks, and face shields were given to homeless individuals and homeless advocates working on the frontlines.
None of these achievements would have been possible without the generosity of Community Seva’s supporters. Bay Area businesses such as Jalsa Catering and Events, 8Elements Perfect Indian Cuisine, Bella’s Bar and Grill, Shastha Foods, and Biryani Bowl have donated their time and resources to help provide daily breakfasts and lunches.
Talented musicians, a youth group, and comedians have participated in fundraisers to help with Community Seva’s COVID-19 alleviation efforts. There has been an outpouring of support from the Bay Area community, whether through individual donations from families or corporate grants and sponsorships from Silicon Valley tech giants and other companies.
Community Seva and countless other organizations have stepped up during this time of need: as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Varsha Venkatram is a rising senior at Stanford Online High School. She has been volunteering for Community Seva since 2017 mainly focusing on social media posts, newsletters, articles and image/video management. She has also cooked breakfast, dinner and led youth care bag sevas for the organization.