As an organization that is steeped in service, a fundamental way Sri Sathya Sai Center of Chelmsford, MA has been approaching service is to identify gaps in services provided by other non-profits. In our discussions with the International Institute of New England (IINE), who are actively involved in resettling Afghani refugees, we identified a major area that they needed help with - grocery support for the first few weeks of their arrival. By taking on this task, Sai volunteers would free up valuable time and resources for IINE to address other pressing needs such as finding legal aid and housing for these families. 

We initially received a request from IINE in early November to assist with grocery provisions for four families, recently arrived in Lynn, Cambridge and Concord. Another similar request arrived from their Lowell office for grocery support for four new families arriving on Monday, November 15th, the day after global Akhanda Bhajan (a 24-hour devotional singing session for global peace). To make things even more challenging, several volunteers were already fully involved with organizing this major event being held at the LASA (Love All Serve All) building, which meant we would be short of volunteers. 

Having only a 3-day lead time to pull off the project, we decided the optimal way to execute the project was bulk shopping. In response to an email sent out late Friday night, Sai volunteers generously stepped in, so that overnight, we had more than $800 to purchase groceries. A few volunteers went on a shopping spree at Restaurant Depot. While Akhanda Bhajan continued, some volunteers stayed up past midnight to sort and repack the groceries into nine different lots. Five lots were delivered to the initial group of five families. A second set of groceries for the other four arriving families was dropped off at the IINE office in Lowell on Monday. As we dropped off the groceries, a case manager arrived, exhausted from a shopping trip to the market, and feeling disappointed that she couldn’t get vegetables, basmati rice and spices that were on the list. Needless to say, she was overjoyed to see all these items included in the neatly packaged grocery bags, ready to be given to the families. 

The IINE staff were impressed at how quickly and efficiently Sai Volunteers put together the groceries without compromising on the quality of service. We received several messages, phone calls from many Center members asking if they could help purchase, or deliver the groceries, or contribute monetarily to the project. Thanks to Sai volunteers and their families, the pilot phase of the grocery project was a success. Groceries for arriving Afghan refugees will be an ongoing service project for the Greater Boston SSSIO Centers and LASA Foundation. We look forward to warmly welcoming our newly arrived Afghani brothers and sisters and easing the resettlement process in their new homeland.