How the pantry of a Buddhist temple satisfies starvation in New York

NEW YORK (AP) – In the temple in Queens, New York City, monks in maroon robes sang and lit incense and candles at an altar in front of a golden Buddha statue.

People used to stand outside on the sidewalk with face masks, shopping baskets and reusable bags in a socially distant line spanning two blocks, waiting to haul much-needed rice, fruits and vegetables to get them through tough times due to the pandemic bring to.

“It’s really a big help because you get everything fresh and organic,” said Jyoti Rajbanshi, a Nepalese nursing student at Long Island University who lost her job and used her credit cards and relied on the weekly pantry at least you don’t have to spend money on buying the groceries “

The United Sherpa Association started the nutrition program from scratch last April when the coronavirus devastated the neighborhood and other parts of the city. The Buddhist temple and community center serve all newcomers, including immigrants living in the countryside without legal permission and the swollen ranks of the unemployed. However, it has become a particularly important lifeline for Nepalese college students who live thousands of miles from their families.

Some have been locked out of dormitories where they had previously received most of their meals. You do not qualify for state stimulus exams. Their student visas generally don’t allow them to work full-time or off campus to support themselves. And there is often little help from home as families in their heavily tourism-dependent country face major problems during the pandemic.

“You don’t have unemployment insurance. They don’t have any houses here. You are far from home, “said Urgen Sherpa, the president of the association, which describes the students as” unknown victims “of the coronavirus.

You are among the estimated 2 million New York City residents affected by food insecurity. That number is said to have almost doubled in view of the largest increase in unemployment since the Great Depression.

At the beginning of the pandemic, residents of the immigrant neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona in Queens were badly hit and tested positive for the virus in greater numbers than other parts of the city. The United Sherpa Association closed its temple and canceled its sports programs, cultural activities, and Sherpa and Nepali language courses.

It also took action to help those who were struggling. Members called contacts around the world to import masks, gloves and hand sanitizer that were often out of stock in local stores. The association gave more than 30 students $ 500 grants and mobilized an army of volunteers to deliver personal protective equipment and boxes of groceries home.

When the pantry opened, the news spread on social media and students volunteered to pick up and distribute groceries every Friday outside the temple, which was housed in a former Christian church.

Some of the volunteers are beneficiaries themselves, like Tshering Chhoki Sherpa, a 26-year-old PhD student at Baruch College who started working there in July.

“It feels good to be a part of it,” she said, “and to get help too.”

Aside from providing food, the pantry also comforts the mind. She said: “When I come here, I feel at home because everyone speaks Nepali.”

Like many who worship at the temple, she is of the Sherpa, a Himalayan ethnic group whose members are known as guides and support staff for adventurers climbing Mount Everest and other peaks among the highest in the world.

Nepal, a country of 30 million people, was closed to foreigners last year due to the pandemic that devastated the tourism industry, closed businesses and lost jobs. For their part, Tshering Chhoki Sherpa’s family temporarily closed the hotel they operated on one of the hiking trails up Everest, and they got by in New York on savings and the pantry.

Nepal was also badly hit by the virus, and the lack of available hospital beds prompted the government to ask patients with fewer symptoms to isolate at home. So going home was not a viable solution for students in New York.

Rajbanshi said her parents had both signed COVID-19. Your uncle, who died, too. She has not seen her family in Nepal for three years and is worried about them.

It’s a common feeling.

“I hear harder news every day in Nepal,” said Mina Shaestha, 23, who postponed her entry to LaGuardia Community College because of the pandemic. “People die of hunger. They live in the same room because of quarantine.”

Her partner works part-time in a grocery store, and with little money, the potatoes, onions, pasta, pumpkins, and milk they get from the pantry are crucial to feeding them and their 2 year old son.

“We save the money on food and can pay the extra things like rent,” said Shaesta.

Deshen Karmo Sherpa, a 16-year-old pantry volunteer who was born in the United States to Nepalese parents, said she was moved to support this because she saw a community in need.

It was “a way of actually giving something back,” she said, “at a time when you feel so helpless.”

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