United Sikhs Help Fire Evacuees

Amarpreet Singh quit his job as the vice president of a small startup company in September 2019 so he could focus all of his efforts on volunteer work indefinitely.

Volunteering about 50 hours a week—or roughly the same amount of hours he worked at his previous gig—Singh said he has found infinite joy in his new role of serving others.

The Bay Area resident is the Northern California Area Coordinator for United Sikhs, a national social justice and public service non-profit organization that is working in association with the American Red Cross to serve hot meals to 1,600 displaced wildfire evacuees at multiple shelters across the region starting this past weekend.

United Sikhs manages regular food distribution and other services for people in need across the U.S. The organization has expanded its program to San Jose to mobilize its resources on behalf of those impacted by the massive wildfires. When it comes to volunteering to help those in need, Singh operates on a next-level perspective.

“When I started volunteering, I thought I might be benefiting someone else,” Singh said in a phone call to San Jose Inside, “but the funny thing it’s actually the other way around. I’m the one who has benefited the most. People think volunteers are doing the needy a favor by taking time out of their schedules, but I think it’s the opposite. Others are doing me a favor when I get the opportunity to serve them.”

Through a three-pronged approach—humanitarian aid, civil and human rights and empowerment—United Sikhs’ mission is to transform, educate and protect the lives of underprivileged individuals and minority communities impacted by disasters, suffering from hunger, illiteracy, diseases or from violations of civil and human rights.

According to Singh, United Sikhs has around 80 active volunteers in the Bay Area and generous donors who help the non-profit procure necessary items such as water bottles, face masks and non-perishable hygiene items to give away. The United Sikhs Northern California chapter has been active in the Bay Area for the last several years, developing relationships with other non-profits and politicians to better serve the community.

They have done joint projects with local shelters, Martha’s Kitchen and Opening Doors, a renowned social cause network headquartered in San Jose. Opening Doors serves the homeless everyday at various locations, including three times a week in a parking lot adjacent to St. James Park.

“The unique thing is we’re probably the only ones in the country to have this type of operation where we serve restaurant-style food outdoors where the homeless can eat,” Opening Doors Executive Director David Hernandez told San Jose Inside. “It’s a conducive environment because we have restrooms and we work with Groundwerx for garbage containment.”

A group of five United Sikh volunteers works twice a month with Opening Doors helping to feed the homeless population. Hernandez said it’s a great partnership because United Sikhs bring different items to distribute and work well with the Opening Doors team.

As the United Sikhs Northern California coordinator, Singh has plenty of responsibilities. He finds the needs of various communities, helps recruit volunteers and puts together fundraisers, among other things. When the opportunity came up to help displaced wildfire evacuees, Singh didn’t hesitate.

“As Sikhs, through ‘seva,’ the practice of selfless service to all people, we can reach a higher purpose, which is central to our faith,” he said. “Another motivation is that life has been very kind to me, so I want to use my platform to help out in any way possible. We are lucky souls to have the opportunity to serve others, and I feel very blessed.”

Singh, who plans on going back to paid work within the next 12 months, said volunteering on a full-time basis has been one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

“We have a diverse group of volunteers, and it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “We’re serving humanity. I’ve learned a lot through volunteering, and I have a much better attitude and am more grateful since I started doing this. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”

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