The Silicon Valley Voice

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Community Food Pantry Mobilizes to Meet COVID-19 Emergency

The new South Bay Community Pantry (SBCP) puts new meaning into the saying, “hit the ground running.” Before it was even officially up and running on Monday, the pantry was already working on 200 requests for food and other necessaries from those affected by the COVID-19 shelter in place order.

As the ramifications of the order became clear, “we knew we had to do something,” said organizer and Santa Clara Cultural Commissioner and Library Foundation Board Member Harbir Bhatia.

“If we want most to stay in,” she continued, “then someone has to get the groceries to them, especially those that don’t have others or have the finances. It’s our responsibility to help each other. We don’t need to wait for somebody else to do it. We just need to do it.”

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The SBCP brings together the efforts of a wide range of Silicon Valley service groups, including: the local Sikh Food Pantry, JOY of SEWA, IK Onkar Bridges, Khalsa Aid, Khalis Foundation, Bay Area Sikh volunteers, County Supervisor Dave Cortese’s office, Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce, Santa Clara Rotary and a cadre of energetic volunteers.

The program serves anyone who might have difficulty keeping food on the table and maintaining hygiene under the lockdown order. These include older people living alone; people at high risk because of medical conditions; and people whose income is already low or those who have suffered economic hardship as a result of the shelter in place order.

Bhatia stresses that no one is excluded. The homeless are also included in the program.

“If they call us, we can go to wherever they need us to,” said Bhatia.

The team provides pickup or delivery of a bag of groceries worth $125 — enough for a family of four for one week — and currently there are no set limits on the number of weeks people can receive help. The bags also include COVID-19 shelter in and safety guidelines and recommendations, COVID-19 “myth busters” and a list of Santa Clara County resources.

“We expect demand to go up significantly relative to the [COVID-19] news and as the program gets known,” said Bhatia. “If these 200 orders are just part of the week, I think it’s a fair assumption that at least half of these will be repeats the next week, plus many more will come.”

With storage and staging provided by the Silicon Valley Sikh Gurdwara in Santa Clara, the team has a very structured operation in place, powered by online tools that allow remote work and social distancing. In addition to Google Docs and Forms and Whatsapp Groups, two team members are creating a mobile app for drivers.

The Khalis Foundation in Alamada launched a Community Pantry project a week earlier, reports Bhatia.

“We wanted to do something similar. So we launched down here a couple days later with some additional services. Now the teams are helping others get started around California [and] support their communities without worry about the ‘how.'”

For Bhatia, this project has already suggested another.

“The one thing I have observed from this experience is there are so many vulnerable members of the community,” she said. “It saddens me and shouldn’t be the case. Especially when we encounter isolated and alone elders and those with special circumstances. That’s something we need to work on and change.”

To order groceries, fill out the Pantry form at www.tinyurl.com/sfp-santaclara. They can also apply by calling Bhatia or Gurvinder Singh at (408) 459-9945.  The team asks those who can pay donate to the service, but no one is required to pay.

The pantry needs $30,000 to support ongoing Pantry operations, and donations can be made online at www.selectiva.org/causes/south-bay-pantry.  For more information, call (408) 459-9945 or (408) 728-8913. Volunteers can sign up at tinyurl.com/south-bay-pantry-volunteer.

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