THE SEASON FOR giving usually brings out the best in people, and for those in the hospitality business that holiday spirit can come naturally.
In Phoenix, Nimesh Dinubhai, founder and president of website services provider Websrefresh, and his daughter Krishna continued their Thanksgiving tradition of bringing brown bags of food to area homeless, this year with some help from their friends. And in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Vimal Patel, president of Qhotels Management, donated toys to children in the foster care system across four cities.
And, in California, hotelier and philanthropist Sunil “Sunny” Tolani is promoting the spirit of giving found in Hanukkah traditions.
A child led them
Dinubhai said 11-year-old Krishna and he, along with friend and AAHOA ambassador Dharmesh Ahir fed around 200 homeless people in parks in the city’s downtown area on Thanksgiving Day. It was the third year for the family tradition that Krishna started after seeing YouTube videos of others giving to the homeless.
“She waited for Halloween, she got candy and after that she started collecting. She doesn’t need the candy, she gets it for the homeless,” he said.
They expanded the act of giving to include nine families this year who donated a maximum of $200 in supplies each.
“Every family we told them to just buy one bag of bread and peanut butter and jelly and two water bottles so it’s affordable for every family now,” Dinubhai said.
They originally planned to distribute the goodie bags at a downtown homeless shelter, but they were turned away because of COVID-19 restrictions and the fact that another agency was already onsite.
“We saw other homeless that were not part of the group so we just went down the street in downtown. There are other parks in downtown, we walked around there and saw them. It took us about three hours to take care of it,” he said. “We put snacks, water, masks, socks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and we just put in a paper bag and gave it to the homeless. They were happy. One of the homeless said ‘Today’s Thanksgiving and I didn’t know if I was going to get any food today.’”
Dinubhai said Krishna and he may expand the tradition even more next year.
“We’ll try to make it bigger,” he said.
Bringing Christmas to children in transition
Patel also was continuing a family tradition with his donation of toys to more than 100 children in Lake Charles Court Appointed Special Advocate system. CASA volunteers shepherd children who have been separated from their parents due to abuse or neglect through the courts and foster care system.
“They’re separated from their parents and never have been able to kind of deal with a lot of anxiety and the challenges that comes from staying with some random strangers in new homes,” Patel said. “There’s a lot a lot of challenges with the children and their future, so we try what we can to help out because of course, they’re children, they haven’t done anything wrong to be in that position.”
Patel originally began the donations in Lake Charles, where he owns a Staybridge Suites.
“Me and my wife, we were supporting some children back home in India as well, sending money to fund their education and things like that,” he said. “And then, in 2014, we learned about foster children.”
The couple contacted a local city councilman who put them in touch with the CASA group.
The family’s donations expanded this holiday season to three more cities because the need increased as a result of the pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes the area faced over the summer.
“It’s between four cities. Lake Charles is one with the most kids with 87, and then in LaPlace we had 34 and in Slidell we had over 45 and then then in Houma we had four,” Patel said. “This year we decided to expand, especially with COVID and hurricane after hurricane and all the challenges that the volunteers of CASA have been facing. We just felt like doing this to give back to the community and be able to put some smiles on their faces and just something to kind of be happy about during Christmas.”
The ages of the children receiving the holiday gifts can range from 2-year-olds to teens, so the CASA volunteers provide lists of suggested presents based on age. This year the gifts included items such as headphones, toys, gift cards and tennis rackets. In one city jackets were in demand.
“For each city, like Lake Charles, I have my general manager and the sales staff buy locally. Every parish in which we purchase, we try to buy the toys in local shops,” Patel said. “What we have done is labeled, according to the list that was given, each of the toys, and we give them the list with the label numbers on each of the toys. That makes it easier for them.”
Giving the children toys provides them a sense of normalcy during the holiday, Erika Doshier, vice president for the Family & Youth Counseling Agency in Lake Charles told the local American Press newspaper. They have lived with abuse and neglect. One child was excited to receive a package containing socks, a toothbrush and shampoo.
“Our foster kids typically don’t ask for anything in particular. They just appreciate having something,” Doshier said. “Still, being able to see their faces light up and celebrate Christmas with them is a very special occasion. It’s a great way for us to remind them that they’re special and they matter.”
Having a ‘shamash-ing’ good holiday
Tolani and the staff at his hotels have kept up the holiday spirit in several ways over the years. This year is the same, as they distributed more than 900 turkeys for Thanksgiving to staff, senior centers, local police and fire departments in the cities where they have hotels. For Christmas they planned to do pumpkin pies and fresh baked cookies.
For 2020 in particular, Tolani points to the spirit of the “shamash,” the candle used to light other candles in the Hanukkah menorah, as an example.
“The shamash is so busy giving its light to others that it never gets its own night to shine. And isn’t 2020 the perfect year to start an annual Hanukkah tradition of honoring the people who, like the shamash, give of themselves to help others?” he said. “I can think of lots of those people this year, starting with friends who delivered toilet paper (of all things) when I could not find these items in any store. The hospital staff who cared for COVID-19 patients in emergency surgery. The teachers who juggle and pivot to keep kids connected and learning. The online fitness instructors, doctors, nurses, therapists, and staffs.”
Tolani goes on to cite as examples of reasons for the holiday mail carriers, delivery people, grocery store clerks, trash collectors and, of course, hospitality workers.
“Like the shamash, individual people have the power to brighten the lives of those around them,” he said. “That’s why Hanukkah and Christmas, especially in the year 2020, is the perfect time for all of us to show appreciation for those who help us, help others and help heal the world.”