A team of supporters, including Nancy Patel, Hemant Patel and Bhaskar Zaver, at the Samaj Saves Lives exhibit in April 2018 in Washington, D.C.

THE SEASON OF Diwali is one of celebration and giving of gifts. One organization believes the greatest gift one can give is oneself through organ donation.

Samaj Saves Lives is a non-profit dedicated to educating the Indian American and Hindu community in the U.S. about organ donation.

Bhupen Amin of Walnut Creek, California, watched helplessly as his mother-in-law died in wait for an organ transplant.

He decided to act and formed Samaj Saves Lives.

Samaj Saves Lives has registered 2,500 donors over the past two years, Amin said. While that is good news, it is barely making a dent in satisfying the need.

The organ donation campaign is connected to the national Donate Life network. When someone signs up as an organ donor, he or she makes a promise to help a vast community of people in need of an organ or tissue.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says someone is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes.

Samaj Saves Lives has registered 2,500 donors over the past two years, said the organization’s founder Bhupen Amin.

According to Donate Life, more than 120,000 people, including children, are on the national waiting list.

An average 95 organ transplants happen every day in the U.S., but about 25 people die each day waiting for a transplant, report HHS and Donate Life.

One donor can save up to eight lives, according to Samaj Saves Lives website.

Though most American adults favor organ donation, only half of those sign up as donors.

Amin is on a mission to change those statistics. For several years, he has attended samaj events, business conferences and other gatherings to spread the word about organ donation.

“The program is going wonderfully,” he said. “We are able to get a lot of support in the com­munity and from organizations that represent the community.”

In the spring AAHOA presented him with its annual Outreach For Philanthropy. “The program has really taken off because of that,” Amin said, noting the fourth pillar of AAHOA is to give back to the community.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has thrown its weight behind the campaign by inviting Amin to present at franchisee meetings and events. The company in September awarded Amin its Cecil B. Day Community Service Award.

Though Hindu scriptures make no reference to organ and tissue donation, Hindu beliefs and principles support organ donation, says the NJ Sharing Network in an online guide for clergy and other faith leaders.

“The philosophy of Yajna, which promotes giving to others, is one of the highest principles of the Vedas. A true act of Yajna would be giving someone the gift of life by donating organs and tissues,” reads the guide. “Additionally, the Hindu philosophy of karma and helping others supports the notion of organ donation.”

Indian Americans are in a unique position to make a difference, Amin said. “Because our network is so large, we can help. Because of how close we are, we can network between people willing to give and people willing to receive.”

Yet, the Asian American community histor­ically is not active in organ donation. Amin believes a negative perception of becoming an organ donor is fed by a fear of unethical practices that have taken place in India. He encourages his fellow Asian Americans by noting that in the U.S. the system is honest and fair. Charity in general is very common in the community.

Here are some donation facts:

Your life is always first. If you become ill or are injured in an accident, the hospital’s num­ber one goal is to save your life. Your status as an organ donor is not considered until every effort has been made to save your life.

Everyone can register to be a donor. Age and health do not prevent you from register­ing. Health care professionals will determine what can be donated at the time of your passing.

Organ and tissue donation is free. Your family will not face any costs related to your decision.

Everyone is equal. Rich or famous individu­als do not get priority on the national trans­plant waiting list. Factors such as blood type, body size, location, severity of illness and length of time on the waiting list are used to determine the best candidate for an organ.

If you don’t decide, your family will. If you haven’t registered to be an organ and tissue donor, your family will be asked to decide on your behalf during a very difficult time. Talking with your family makes them aware of your wishes and can make this decision easier.

You will be treated with respect. The med­ical professionals who perform the recovery surgeries treat donor patients with the utmost respect, just like they would for any other patient. Open casket funerals are still possible after organ and tissue donation.

For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register, visit www.samaj.life and find the organization on Facebook.