Denver-area Sikhs package 12,000 pounds of snacks for frontline workers


Sharing food has always been part of Sikhism, but social distancing meant Colorado Singh Sabha had to change tactics.

Members of Colorado Singh Sabha, the massive temple in Commerce City that serves metro-area Sikhs, delivered 12,500 pounds of snacks to frontline workers across the state over the weekend. But this act of giving was about more than serving doctors, nurses, police officers and firefighters responding to COVID-19. It also meets a spiritual need.

Langar is a Sikh word for “open kitchen.” It helps satisfy what Anmol Singh said is the second of three major tenets of his faith.

“First, we believe to work hard. Our second belief is that we need to share our earnings with others, those who are unfortunate, because at the end of the day we’re all brothers and sisters and we need to look after each other. Third: remember God,” he said. “Be respectful, be loving, be caring and do not forget who you are as a person.”

In normal times, huge Langar lunches cooked up at Singh Sabha’s kitchen would be open to anyone. Since the temple is kind of far-flung, way out in a field northwest of DIA, members also used to drive a food truck into Denver to distribute meals to people in need. But those efforts have halted.

“Because of the social distancing issue, it’s become very difficult,” Singh said.

Anmol Singh stands among many boxes packed here at Colorado Singh Sabha Commerce City that are bound for frontline workers around the state. May 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Kanwarbar Sandhu (left to right), Manjit Thiara and Davinder Sandhu grab boxes of snacks, packed here at Colorado Singh Sabha in Commerce City, that are bound for frontline workers across the state. May 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

To continue serving the public, as their religion requires, Singh said the community decided to start boxing food for delivery.

They began with a small pilot project. As they delivered boxes containing full meals and supplies, they asked hospital staff what they’d prefer from such a donation. The general consensus: more snacks. Singh said deliveries full of small, pre-packaged goodies made sharing easier among hungry workers.

Last week, temple youth waded through thousands of bags of chips and bottled drinks as they built bags that were loaded into hundreds of boxes. They were bound for frontline workers from Fort Collins to Denver to Pueblo, and west into the mountains.

Singh, who leads youth programs at the temple, said the service was led by the congregation’s kids. It gave them a chance to leave the house, to visit Singh Sabha and with each other.

“They did this with great pride,” he said. “It serves our faith.”

Kids at Colorado Singh Sabha in Commerce City pack thousands of bags of snacks into boxes bound for frontline workers around the state. May 8, 2020. (Courtesy: Anmol Singh)

The big delivery came on the heels of some 20,000 masks distributed to workers that Kanwarbar Sandhu, who was loading boxes of food into his truck, said were sourced through the community’s business connections. Many members of his congregation are small-business owners, and they’ve been utilizing their supply chains to drum up supplies for donations.

Sandhu said this kind of community service also helps local Sikhs find recognition across the city, a goal they’ve been working towards for a while. Singh Sabha began putting on public parades in 2016. The idea was to engage Denverites in a positive way while subtly battling the potential for hate crimes that began to rise against Sikhs as a whole after 9/11. Members of the congregation also pushed successfully to add Sikhism to the Colorado Department of Education’s social studies curriculum.

“We just want it to be recognized that Sikhs are there when [the city] needed help,” Sandhu said. “This is not one person. This is a whole community.”

Amarjit Sandhu sits behind the altar in Colorado Singh Sabha's Commerce City sanctuary. May 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Davinder Sandhu carts boxes of snacks, packed here at Colorado Singh Sabha in Commerce City, to a truck bound for frontline workers around the state. May 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sandhu, Singh and others hope to continue this outreach as long as social distancing recommendations remain in place. A blood drive is up next on their to-do list, and there’s still an appetite to send out more snacks.

“We need to serve humanity as long as we all live,” Singh said. “What we can say, for sure, is that we’ll be feeding Colorado residents forever.”

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