Affiliated with the Indian Association of South Santa Clara County, organization provides meals, toys, clothing to the needy

Photo courtesy Poonam Chabra
From left, Janesh and Jayesh Chabra fill to-go boxes of hot, homemade meals for delivery to the needy in the South Valley community through the Circle of Giving’s Hands Against Hunger program.

By Marty Cheek

All it took was a decision made by one woman.

A year ago as the impact of the pandemic hit humanity, Morgan Hill resident Poonam Chabra saw how COVID-19 was hurting the lives of the needy in the South Valley.

Instead of sitting on the sideline, she decided to make a difference. In April 2020, she launched the Circle of Giving (CoG), a program affiliated with the Indian Association of South Santa Clara County. The humanitarian initiative provides support to various nonprofit organizations in the region.

Photo courtesy Poonam Chabra
Arjun Swaminathan, Sanjay Singh and Nihar Chabra fill a van with food for local farmworkers.

“There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have a calling to do something,” Chabra said. “And I had that calling where I felt I had done so much in my career, but still there was a big void in my life. I wanted to do something that stirs my spirit and soul.”

The former president of IASC soon found other people held a similar longing to help and heal men, women and children who were struggling as COVID-19 hit their lives.

“The folks who reached out to me were going through something similar,” she said. “There was maybe 10 who reached out and said, ‘You know what, we always wanted to do this, but we didn’t know how to do this. You’re basically the conduit for us to give back to the community now.’”

A team of 10 launched the first CoG project, calling it Hands Against Hunger. They provided 30 hot, home-cooked meals to the unhoused clients of the Gilroy Compassion Center on the first Tuesday of every month.

As word got out through social media, more Indian community members joined the group to support the cause of serving those less fortunate.

As the number of volunteers grew, CoG found more ways to assist those in need by starting several more programs.

The Share the Warmth program distributed warm clothing and blankets during cold winter months. The youth of the community enthusiastically packed and distributed more than 900 mini-lunch bags and hygiene kits through the Packed With Care program and brought them to those who are unhoused. Sixty kits were also given through the Community Solutions program to survivors of domestic violence.

Encouraging children and teens to be part of the Aid to Farmworkers program teaches them to respect those who grow society’s food. The youths involved in the Circle of Giving program were driven to the farms in Hollister and elsewhere to hand out the food and hygiene bags to families and make the process of sharing more personal.

“It’s just such a good feeling for the youth to get out in person to the farm workers,” Chabra said. “It was just such a wonderful feeling.”

To help make life a little easier for those struggling during the pandemic, CoG works in an informal partnership with various local nonprofit organizations including the Gilroy Compassion Center, Safe Parking Program in Morgan Hill, Pitstop Outreach, Homeless not Hopeless Outreach, Rebekah’s Children Services, Pandemic of Love, and Chiala Farms

Making life better for local young people is another goal of the Circle of Giving initiative. The volunteers held a toy drive during the holiday season through a partnership with the Gilroy-based Rebekah Children’s Services to make sure Christmas 2020 was a brighter one for local families.

An education program launched in March matches tutors from the Indian community with local students who are struggling academically.

Since online learning is a challenge for many students, Circle of Giving launched a new program that provides free, personalized, online tutoring for students who are falling behind academically. The group provides a wide range of enthusiastic and qualified tutors — from middle schoolers to adults — who have been matched with a student based on their availability, grade and preferred subjects for tutoring.

“Working as the lead of the free tutoring program of IASC, Circle of Giving has given me immense pleasure,” said Devanshi Madan, a CoG organizer. “To help students in need, be it because of coming from low economic backgrounds, dysfunctional families or generally complicated family situations, gives me a lot of joy. We want to try our best to help children not get left behind and help them succeed in whatever little way we can.”

Every month CoG prepares and delivers about 150 meals and sandwiches to four shelters in South Valley communities.

“It makes me happy and feel loved from a stranger, when community members bring home-cooked meals,” said a meal recipient. “It reminds me that people ‘out there’ do care about the homeless and that beyond the delicious food, the group helps deliver a nutritious meal.”

The staff and clients of the Gilroy Compassion Center also appreciated the compassionate way the volunteers give their support and sees the benefit the Circle of Giving partnership has demonstrated in providing food, warm clothes, hygiene products and other necessities, said Francesca Paist, the nonprofit’s outreach manager.

“To alleviate homelessness will take efforts from all of us and (CoG’s) homemade, nutritious and delicious food feeds the souls of those who may feel nobody cares about them,” she said. “This year has been especially tough for all of us but Circle of Giving has stepped in to help feed our clients and we couldn’t be more thankful.”

Chabra said the reason they gave (Circle of Giving) this name is because it’s like saying the Indian community has lived in this country for many years, and done really well for themselves with their careers, with their kids, and their academics.

“And now we’ve gone one full circle and it’s time for us to give back to the community we’ve lived in for many years,” she said.