I could have easily stayed at home, sat on my phone reading social media, feeding feelings of depression and anxiety from watching the news constantly.
Instead, I’m surrounded by people who are making a real impact to help humanity.
Just today, I loaded the van and delivered over 600 food parcels to people around the Grenfell Tower area. It’s not my usual job – I’m normally a creative director and a photographer – but then, these are unusual times.
Before the pandemic hit, The Mayor Of London and I were about to take over Trafalgar Square this summer to celebrate the men’s Euro 2020 with a Last Stand tournament, to champion young people and tackle racism – but due to coronavirus, this amazing project got postponed.
The Last Stand is a street football tournament I founded that aims to unite communities and break down social, cultural and religious barriers through sport in a bid to tackle London’s increasing postcode wars and knife crime.
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It brings together the worlds of film, fashion and music too and creates real opportunities for young people to get involved in the creative industries through mentoring schemes and more.
But the whole world around me paused and suddenly I had a load of time on my hands. So I began volunteering at Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara (GMGG), a Sikh temple near where I live in Slough.
GMGG are collaborating with local authorities, charities, food banks, schools, faith organisations and homeless shelters all over Greater London to send out food packages and hot meals to those impacted by coronavirus.
I started by delivering 20-30 food bags a day to various households in Slough, but as the project grew, I’m now delivering thousands of meals a week to households and charities across the capital to the homeless, the vulnerable, the self-isolating and shielding, people who’ve lost all their income because of the pandemic, as well as eight different NHS hospitals
One recipient who stood out for me was pensioner Jean, whose husband is on an oxygen tank, so she hasn’t left their home since March to protect him. Every time she would see our delivery van, you could see the tears of joy in her eyes as she gave us her blessings from a distance.
She even left me a note saying how grateful she was. Hearing from people like Jean has truly humbled me and made me realise life is beautiful when we begin to serve others first.
Over the past two months, GMGG have delivered 44,000 vegetarian hot meals a week all over London. They also distributed more than 100 tonnes of food to charities, faith organisations and individuals and another 3,500 food parcels a week to our local Slough community, all of it self-funded, with no money donations or government grants.
The effort is an extension of the 500-year-old plus Sikh practice of langar (free community kitchen), where anyone can visit a Sikh temple and get a free vegetarian meal, whatever their faith, to demonstrate the importance of community coming together.
So after the Gurdwara was closed in lockdown, our langar kitchen remained open and now sends food to anyone who needs it most.
I’m just one of more than 100 volunteers making this happen – there are teachers, psychotherapists, pharmacists, lawyers, fashion designers, all sorts.
But as well as delivering food, my favourite part is making the hot meals. As we prepare and cook the food, say lentils and rice, we meditate and repeat wahe-guru.
Wahe-guru as a mantra is kind of hard to explain because there is no one explanation. It’s like a ‘Wow!’ – an exclamation of wonder.
It’s often used to express thanks to the infinite, a celebration of the incredible flow of the divine, and to bow in humility to the wonders of this world. Literally translated, the mantra means ‘wonderful God’ – but it means so much more than that as part of simran, which is meditation to bring calmness to the mind to realise your higher purpose in life.
We ensure the goodness is going into the food and by doing simran, it nourishes the body and the mind.
All this has definitely made me more grateful. With The Last Stand, I’m used to helping disadvantaged and marginalised young people from all walks of life – now, I’m helping thousands of people in deprived environments I pray to god no one has to experience. You can sense and feel the struggle.
The whole journey has made me realise the importance of community and looking out for each other. It’s made me realise my problems are insignificant when you see so much pain and austerity firsthand.
This project has melted my heart and upgraded me as a human being. It’s shown me how we all can live in harmony and peace through unity and by doing simran meditation.
The past two months have put my whole life into perspective. Now, I truly realise how important your health, family and loved ones are. It’s allowed me to see the bigger picture and make a difference.
Most importantly, now my mind is calm and I have more clarity. Being present is the only present we need.
And as long as people need our food, the project and I will carry on.
You can find out more about GMGG’s food programme here, and The Last Stand here.
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