As the Indian American community continues to reach out to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, community leaders in Houston have been holding e-conferences/meetings for the past several weeks, and putting together a carefully calibrated plan to help those affected as well as mitigate the effects of the virus on the community.
Ramesh Bhutada, chairman of the Board of Sewa International USA, has pledged to donate $25,000 while community leaders raised over $50,000 for the cause during their meeting late last month, according to a press release. Patanjali Yogpeeth, Hindus of Greater Houston, and Hindu Worship Society were also among the early supporters of the fundraising campaign.
Rasesh Dalal of Vallabh Priti Seva Samaj, coordinator of the community leaders meeting, said, “As we know, Hindus/Indians are a successful community in the U.S., and we come together both in times of celebration and in times of crises. With community leaders eager and anxious to put their best foot forward, we have had e-meetings and good plans of action have evolved to fight COVID-19.”
Gitesh Desai, president of Sewa International’s Houston chapter, who gave an overview of the response plan, said: “Sewa has set up four regional non-medical helplines for a coordinated national response, where people can call in for assistance. Regional hubs include Houston, the Bay Area, Atlanta, and New Jersey. We currently have 500+ volunteers working on these helplines and on case management teams to help resolve any issues that come up.”
In response to calls by state governors, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said New York state has a shortfall of about 50 million masks for medical professionals, Sewa International, which had access to about 20,000 masks as part of its disaster preparedness plan, immediately began distributing those masks to medical facilities all over the country, including in Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta, California’s Bay Area, and New Jersey, said the release. In fact, San Mateo County in Northern California offered to send an airplane to pick up a few thousand masks. Sewa International is now in the process of procuring three million additional masks and is actively seeking funds to support this important purchase.
Sewa services a wide range of issues on non-medical helplines, including aiding individuals reporting COVID-19 symptoms, checking in on family members, purchasing food and groceries, and assisting students living in university dorms, said the press release. “In this interconnected world, we get calls from all over the world from Mumbai, Sydney, Canada, and all over the U.S. For example, one call we received was from a family in Sugarland, Texas who wanted to request help for their parents living in Mumbai, India,” Desai said.
The Indian Consulate in Houston and the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC are also forwarding calls to Sewa about international students who are stranded in the U.S., as well as senior citizens at risk who require assistance.
Sewa International is also coordinating the delivery of 200 meals a day to first responders and those who are working at drive-through testing facilities in Southwest Houston. Sewa International is also committed to helping the most susceptible demographic of this pandemic – the elderly – and is in the process of setting up a system of regularly checking on 1000 senior citizens in a safe and hygienic way.
Working with doctors and medical professionals, Sewa is conveying up-to-date information about COVID-19, addressing how to combat and manage the disease, as well as providing advice on supporting mental health during this time of crisis. These web-streams are hosted by professionals and experts from the community including doctors, lawyers, Chartered Public Accountants, family therapists, and yoga/meditation experts.
Furthermore, Sewa is committed to delivering accurate and useful information to the Indian American community in particular and the broader community in general. In pursuit of this it is offering free daily webinars and Facebook Live streaming which is accessible at the following link: http://bit.ly/3bfuas5.
Sewa is in immediate financial need of $500,000 in Houston and $3.5 million nationally to continue these efforts and to support the community at every level during this pandemic, Desai said. Donations can be made directly at the Sewa International USA website https://www.sewausa.org/Donate.
Recenly, Sewa International was recognized by Charity Navigator – the premier nonprofit rating agency – as number five among the “10 Highly Rated Charities Relying on Private Contributions.”