Glen Cove High School has been holding food drives and making deliveries to families in need since March. The school collaborated with the local Sikh community, with efforts led by Jasleen Sabharwal. Credit: Johnny Milano

Jasleen Sabharwal has always been inspired by her faith to help those in need — one of the essential values of Sikhism is selfless service. 

“The biggest summation of Sikhism is brotherhood and to love everyone equally,” she said.

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Sabharwal started off by buying hand sanitizer, face masks and gowns to deliver to rehabilitation centers. Then, she and some friends started delivering home-cooked meals to hospitals.

After doing this for some time, she felt like a need had been met, but didn’t want to stop there. So, Sabharwal took to social media to find out about food drives going on in her area.

That’s how she discovered the food pantry and deliveries to local families in her community of Glen Cove. Every Wednesday, a team of faculty, students, alumni and community members gathered at Glen Cove High School to put together packages of food for local families struggling during the pandemic.

Sabharwal knew she wanted to be involved in a hands-on way.

“I could easily write a check of $100 to go and give somebody,” she said, “but part of our religion is to not only donate; our religion tells us to go out and do something.”

So, she mobilized a team of volunteers: “We are Sikh women who carry out [our] faith by doing service to all, which is without any questions.”

Her group, which she calls Volunteers Without Walls, collected donations every two weeks, Sabharwal said. Once they’ve raised about $700 to $1,000, one of the volunteers, a caterer, purchased food in bulk from Restaurant Depot. By doing it that way, they've steadily provided food contributions to Glen Cove's pantry for months.

Many of their monetary donations have come from people they know through the Sikh temples, or gurdwaras, in Glen Cove and Hicksville. Sabharwal said that she has also received donations from Indian communities on Long Island.

Glen Cove High School assistant principal Allen Hudson III leads this effort, which he said existed before the pandemic began in the form of a small food pantry for students in need. It was in partnership with Island Harvest, and when schools closed in March, Hudson knew there was a need for their collaboration to continue on a larger scale.

He said at first the school district provided breakfast and lunch for students to come pick up, but “the people who were the neediest didn’t have transportation,” he said.

So in addition to the grab-and-go food pantry, volunteers started making food deliveries to local families. Each package included canned goods, pasta, cereal and produce, Hudson said.

“Jasleen put me in contact with other members of the Sikh temple, and a lot of them became our drivers,” he said.

He added that a typical donation to the pantry usually includes “two or three bags of food,” but Sabharwal and her volunteers would show up with “a trunkload of food.”

“Jasleen and the other volunteers have been instrumental in not just getting us food, but distributing it out to families who don’t have transportation,” he said.

With donations from community members like Sabharwal and the contributions of Island Harvest, Hudson estimates that they were able to feed 350 families a week with the program. He believes he provided some “normalcy” to families in these uncertain times.

“During the Fourth of July, we gave out hot dogs, pork and beans, ketchup, things of that sort, just to kind of make them feel like they can have a barbecue,” Hudson said.

Wednesday marked the last time the service was offered at the high school, as teachers and administrators prepare to reopen for classes in the fall.

So, now it's time once again for Sabharwal to find new ways to help those in need. She plans to register Volunteers Without Walls as an official nonprofit organization and expand their reach.

“Right now it’s all friends and our community that knows us,” she said. “So we can't grow much. Once we form an official nonprofit, we can join together with other communities, as well.”

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