Indo-American “samaj” community groups lend a hand during pandemic

A national ‘Samaj Strong’ movement is rising in many U.S. cities

Because the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of several special events planned for Leva Patidar Samaj of Houston’s 25th anniversary, the group’s members found other uses for the money they had saved. They donated 3,300 masks and 5,000 gloves to Methodist Hospital System, left, and made a monetary donation to the Houston Police Officers’ Union to purchase additional PPE supplies for Houston police officers.

THE HINDI WORD “samaj” in English means “community.” In Houston, and across the country, local groups of Indian Americans are taking the message in that word to heart, even in the depth of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take, for example, Leva Patidar Samaj of Houston, which this year had plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The pandemic changed those plans, said LPSH President Saajan Patel and member Miraj Patel.

So, the organization’s members put the money they had raised for anniversary-related events and put them to use elsewhere.

“We were able to raise a good amount of money to buy and donate masks and gloves to greater Houston area hospitals. We also made a monetary donation to the Houston police officer’s union for them to purchase additional PPE supplies for their police officers,” Saajan said. “We wanted to focus strictly on helping our community as much as possible. Our organization and community has always come together during tough times.”

Miraj, who also is president of Wayside Investment Group in Houston, said the decision is in keeping with the standards set by the founders of LPSH, many of whom are also the parents of current members. That includes Miraj’s father Samir Patel, who recently arranged for two San Antonio, Texas, hoteliers who are recovering from the coronavirus to donate their blood plasma to help save a friend of his. LPSH has 300 family memberships.

“Instead of focusing so much on how we cannot do these events, they chose to go ahead and start this drive to help community,” Miraj said. “To them, this is their definition of celebrating the 25th anniversary. What we all believe is helping the community is something instilled in us by our past leaders and parents who have built this organization for 25 years.”

This generosity comes even as LPSH members, most of home are hotel owners, are suffering substantially from the economic downturn.

“Despite our members facing a substantial drop in occupancy and revenue at their hotels, they still have a lending hand and huge hearts to donate to this initiative,” Saajan said.

The LPSH drive is still ongoing and going national through its “Samaj Strong” campaign.

“Basically, we want to encourage other samaj organizations across the U.S. to help out in their communities too, whether they be donating masks and gloves or giving monetary contributions or giving meals to first responders,” Saajan said.

Samaj organizations in California, Tennessee, Georgia and Arkansas are undertaking similar acts of kindness. So is Leuva Patidar Samaj of USA.

Hotelier Jayesh Patel in Cartersville, Georgia, right, as president of Leva Patidar Samaj of Georgia provides facemasks to Cartersville Police Chief Frank McCann. LPS of Georgia donated about 5,000 masks to local hospitals in Cartersville and Atlanta.

Hotelier Jayesh Patel in Cartersville, Georgia, is president of Leva Patidar Samaj of Georgia and a board member of LPS USA.

“Due to the coronavirus, we are trying to support the local community,” he said.

They have provided about 5,000 masks to local hospitals in Cartersville and Atlanta. The group also donated to the local fire department and county commission.

“There’s some more coming so we’re going to give them some more,” Jayesh said. “We are trying to support our United States of America. In this land we have a lot of opportunity. We are praying for the whole world, for all of the United States. I hope we get better soon.”

Jayesh owns a Days Inn in Cartersville and an independent hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Like most hotel owners, he is suffering in the current crisis.

“Our hotel is almost closed,” he said. “I don’t know how we are going to come back. All hotel owners are struggling a lot. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The nearly 1,300 members of Surti Leuva Patidar Samaj of Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, have raised $15,000 for donations, said the group’s President Kiran Jariwala.

“We look for who needs it. Could be masks, could be food,” Jariwala said. “We’re blessed with a lot of good people.”

In Little Rock, Arkansas, Gujarati Samaj Arkansas members serve dinners twice a week to local first responders fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, said President Anil Patel.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, Gujarati Samaj Arkansas have taken a slightly different approach, said President Anil Patel.

“We thought we could do something for first responders and people working for the public safety,” Anil said. “My committee made the decision that we could serve food for people working 24 hours.”

They serve dinners twice a week, he said.

“It’s a good turnout and good support from my members,” Anil said.

One way Samaj Strong can be a powerful force for community service around the country is that the idea for such organizations is expanding, Saajan said. The larger samaj organizations in big cities have existed for 25 to 30 years, he said.

“Now, what we’re seeing is that more and more local people are getting together and creating organizations,” Miraj said. “We know that in Texas, some of the smaller cities came together because they may not be able to drive all the way to Houston, so they created something in the Rosenberg area or the Huntsville area. This is something that we’re seeing, that a lot of people are feeling that there is a need for community, to keep maintaining our roots, to ensure that the next generation has the same roots as before.”