Though the temple doors closed amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Hindu community has continued to worship in other tangible, meaningful ways that align with the faith's core belief of helping those in need.
The Hindu Community of Charleston has raised $20,000 that all went towards paying for 4,800 lunches for Charleston-area families. Since May, volunteers have been giving out the meals at two Lowcountry schools. The final distribution will take place Aug. 7 at West Ashley Middle School and Ladson Elementary from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The initiative started as a response to the pandemic, which has left many people without food and other basic necessities. The Charleston-area Hindu community reached out to the school district and offered help by giving out lunches from local school sites.
"A couple of people were uneasy about the despair and problems, and people not getting desired resources," said Peyush Dwivedi, a board member at the temple. "We wanted to make sure that we also participate in helping out."
The Charleston County School District had already been giving out lunches during the week at Charleston-area schools to students in need, but aid from the Hindu community helped extend that effort to include students' families, said Walter Campbell, executive director of the district's nutrition services department.
The effort also provided an extra meal to those who may run short on the weekends.
Campbell said the pandemic is impacting families who've otherwise never struggled to afford basic necessities. As the virus lingers, Campbell does not expect many changes in people's financial conditions.
"I do not see it getting better right away," he said. "There are still families out there in need. We’re doing our best."
The lunch distribution effort received support from Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, who said as he joined Hindu devotees for one distribution in West Ashley that God's love was at work.
The meals were vegetarian, as plant diets are an integral part of Hinduism, and contained items such as cheese pizza, seven-layer burritos, quesadillas and chips.
The initiative also enabled the observant to worship through the act of giving, a core tenant of the Indian religion.
Hindu stories tell of gods who traveled and were fed by others who themselves lacked resources, said Dwivedi, who pointed to the religious story of someone who shared a grain of rice with the god Krishna.
Likewise, attendees share meals with one another during prayers at the temple, he said.
“There shouldn't be anybody left behind in the community," he said.
Like some other houses of worship, the temple has slowly begun reopening its doors in a limited capacity. The temple, which boasts about 200 families, is open for about five to six worshipers who can meet with the priest by appointment.
Historically, the temple has not done much in the area of community outreach, save for opening its space for blood donations in partnership with the Red Cross.
But the lunch distribution has touched the hearts of many of the devotees, inspiring them to want to repeat the initiative in the future and worship beyond the walls.
“They are hoping we can go out more and do such community service," said Mahesh Bansod, treasurer for the temple's executive committee.
He said he has been satisfied by the smiles people's faces who come to receive help.