It began as an evening to share food; it ended with Medicine Hat’s Sikh community and The Salvation Army sharing their hearts and so much more.
The story has its roots in the 15th century with the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. When he was 12, his father gave him what was then a considerable sum of money: 20 rupees. He was told to start a business. Instead, he took the money and fed the poor in his community. He told his upset father that he had done the “True Business”. The Sikh community worldwide follows in his path and his teachings, feeding millions of hungry people around the world.
In Medicine Hat, 35-year resident Rani Gill and her friend Sundeep had been searching for an opportunity to do the same. “We didn’t know how to do it,” explains the store owner. “We thought maybe we could cook the food and just open a booth on the street. But of course that’s not possible and not legal.”
Although Gill has donated to The Salvation Army in Medicine Hat for decades, it hadn’t occurred to her to connect with them until a friend suggested it.
Her inquiry came to the Director of the newly opened Community Resource Centre, Ian Scott. Ian says the Salvation Army in Medicine Hat feeds about 70 people every day with the help of community volunteers. He was delighted to be able to offer Rani November 14, the day when Sikhs were celebrating the birth of their founder. He says part of his mission since the August opening has been to “really connect” with other people, cultures, and organization in the community.
Rani still sounds a little bemused by how quickly it came together. She worked on the menu at her store in between customers. The phones were buzzing as the members of the Sikh community volunteered, planned, and shopped. “They all took Monday off work so they could help out. Every one.”
Rani was sure they had overcooked and would have to send the remainder to the charity kitchen. But the people came back three….four….five times. “We told them, eat as much as you can.” Ian notes that “street people are known for their honesty.” But he didn’t hear a single bad word. “There was vegetarian lasagna, pasta, a spicy noodle dish, and fruit plates. We can’t afford fresh fruit, let alone fresh fruit that is cut up. It was a huge bonus for our people. They were excited and we were excited.”
Rani was touched by how they listened respectfully and followed along as the Sikh prayer was performed in Punjabi before the meal. “They said bless you, bless you, bless you. My kids, I told them and they are so happy. They said this is the best thing you have ever done. God is one. He was with us. I felt so good.”
Ian and Rani began talking about doing it again, and more often, before the clean-up was even over. Ian says it shows how important it is to develop and strengthen the ties within the community. Rani says now they know they can do it, they will.
Neither can stop talking about one thing. Rani: “I saw the smiles. I felt like a better person. I just don’t have the words to say.” Ian: “We saw these big smiles. It was a beautiful time of connection with community and an example to our people of partnering and working together no matter our faith belief.”
And those mounds of what Rani and Ian both thought was too much food? There was barely a single serving left.