Volunteers at a Sikh temple in Glen Rock are following a tradition at the root of the religion, preparing meals in their community kitchen just as they did before the pandemic. Only now the meals are to go, given to senior citizens, families in need and anyone else who wants them.
Hundreds of free vegetarian meals are handed out each week to people who come to a drive-through pickup at the temple, known as a gurdwaran. The meals are available Fridays and Sundays, when services were held before the pandemic lock down.
Preparing meals and serving them to the temple community had been an important part of the services, said Yadwinger Singh, chairman of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwara in Glen Rock. In India, where the Sikh religion originated, it is common for people to be fed and sheltered at temples, he said.
"This has been going on hundreds of years," Singh said. "Anyone who needs shelter or food, they can go to the temples without being asked who they are or their religion."
He said the founder of the religion, Guru Nanak, began the tradition 500 years ago when he took money his father gave him to establish a trade and instead used it to feed people who were hungry and poor. Such charity is a central focus of the religion, which includes a belief in one god. Sikhs in India have been taking meals to people in remote areas and making masks from their turbans.
Community kitchens are part of every Sikh temple, Singh said, and the meals were an essential part of religious gatherings. Now, with no services being held, they remain a way for temple members to connect to an important part of their faith.
At first the idea was to prepare food at the temple to give to local charities. Then came calls from senior citizens stuck at home during the pandemic.
The Glen Rock temple handed out about 800 meals over two days last week. It delivered another 75 meals to charities that in turn distribute them to people in need. Singh said he didn't realize at first that so many people in the surrounding area, which is relatively affluent, would need help.
"A lot of senior citizens and people in the surrounding areas wanted to come," he said, adding that people in need also have been coming to the temple's drive-through from other communities, including Paterson, Hackensack, Fair Lawn and Paramus. "I was surprised to see the response."
Temple volunteers carefully follow social-distancing rules, he said. One family prepares the food in the kitchen. Another prepares individual meal boxes. And another distributes them. Singh said some volunteers bring meals to people who can't get to the temple.
The temple asks people to text orders specifying how many meals they need and what day they will pick them up. Singh said that some of the recent meals included kidney beans, Chinese vegetables, lentils and vegetable patties, all served with rice. They all come with fruit and a bottle of water.
They are available at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays at the temple, which is located at 541 Prospect Street in Glen Rock. Orders may be texted to 201-270-6661.