In a small auditorium on the Wilson School campus, Santa Clara City Council Member Raj Chahal and his wife help serve up lunch to students and staff of the Independence Network. It’s a holiday tradition that started a few years ago and continues to this day.’
“My wife was talking to the director of Independence Network a few years back and she mentioned, ‘We had a family that used to do Thanksgiving lunch for us. They backed out.’ And so, my wife said, ‘Okay, probably we can do it.’ And when she came home, I said, ‘Yeah, sure.,’” said Chahal with a smile.
The Independence Network is an adult education program run by Santa Clara Unified School District. It works with adults with disabilities on things like daily living activities and job training.
“Our students really just enjoy that extra attention and they enjoy being served,” said Yvonne Jasso, a teacher at Independence Network. “It really means a lot that people care a lot and our students just love to be served.”
This year’s lunch was a little different than years past. The lunch is normally served around Thanksgiving, but Chahal and his wife, Daljit, were traveling during Thanksgiving. Instead of canceling, they pushed the lunch back to Christmas-time, Dec. 20.
“I think the students really enjoy times when they all get to come together as a whole group. Usually, they’re working in their own classroom and don’t get times to mix,” said Mireya Sanchez, Program Coordinator for Independence Network. “It’s nice for them to have an opportunity to do an activity all together. I think they like knowing that people in the community care about them and are interested in what they’re doing and feeling that support is really nice.”
The festivities included a gift exchange between the students and staff as well as Christmas carol karaoke. Then, of course, there was the food.
Both Raj and Daljit Chahal are hands on. The two of them went shopping together. Raj Chahal baked the lasagnas in the ovens in the school’s learning kitchen. Daljit Chahal recruited the volunteers, including some of her coworkers on the Wilson Campus.
“I think it’s incredible. It’s just absolutely amazing,” said Nancy Ronconi, who volunteered at the lunch and works with Daljit Chahal at the Wilson Preschool on campus. “There’s a lot of love. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it to make it special for this community. I think it’s pretty awesome.”
While Ronconi couldn’t stop praising the giving nature and thoughtfulness of Raj and Daljit Chahal, they were quick to turn the praise back on the volunteers.
“Most of it is self-satisfaction,” said Raj Chahal. “This group is so great. We are doing a small part of it. The actual contribution is from the teachers and all the volunteers that work for them throughout the year. That’s so fulfilling for us.”
“Without them, we cannot make this,” said Daljit Chahal, gesturing to the food and the diners. “We are blessed to have this event every year and it’s very satisfying…When I see the smile on their faces, I think that’s the best thing.”