Holiday giving can have a different meaning than exchanging presents toward the end of December.

In early November came the five days of Diwali, a festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists totaling more than 1 billion people around the world.

“The message behind Diwali is basically lighting a lamp to remove darkness,” Upper St. Clair resident Sai Venkatapurapu said.

“The darkness could be in the form of hunger or suffering.”

Acknowledging the spirit of the holiday, a group in New Jersey launched a food drive called Sewa Diwali: “Sewa means service,” he said.

Since its start in 2018, the annual drive has expanded to 31 states, with 315 organizations participating. Among them is Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA, a nonprofit, social, educational and cultural organization for which Venkatapurapu coordinates activities in four states.

“The idea is to inspire our local communities to support people who are in need,” he said about Sewa Diwali, through which 17,409 pounds of food was collected in Pennsylvania this year.

“And during the time of Diwali, as you’re all celebrating and enjoying the festivities, you also need to think about people who are not that fortunate.”

South Fayette Township resident Preeti Paranjpe guided the collection of 780 pounds of food that was donated to the Bridgeville Community Food Bank, which operates out of Bethany Presbyterian Church on Washington Pike.

She also organized a pre-holiday Diwali Mela fete in September at South Fayette’s Fairview Park, with the proceeds benefiting Sewa Diwali. Also, feminine hygiene products were collected for donation.

Throughout the nation in 2020, Sewa Diwali garnered about 300,000 pounds of food, distributed among 207 beneficiaries. In Western Pennsylvania, those included Light of Life Rescue Mission, Rainbow Kitchen, Westmoreland County Food Bank, the Latino Community Center, Gleaners Food Bank in Cranberry Township, and Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard in Larimer.

For more information, visit sewadiwali.org.

Bridgeville donation

Some 780 pounds of food was donated to the Bridgeville Community Food Bank, which operates out of Bethany Presbyterian Church on Washington Pike.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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