We amplify marginalized voices and create meaningful work for those experiencing poverty

We amplify marginalized voices and create meaningful work for those experiencing poverty

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The Question Is… What is the Guru Nanak Free Kitchen?

Jathinder Sandhu

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As a child I remember how I loved going to the Sikh temple. It was a place of safety for me. Many years later, I would move away from my faith, only to be reunited with it — much like the journey of the prodigal son.

The red plush carpet in the upper hall, the Guru Granth Sahib (Holy Scriptures) covered adoringly with beautiful coloured materials of silk and gold, and the tasty prasad offered after bowing in reverence all gave me a sense of respect for myself and my culture.

Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world. Whenever, one goes to a Sikh temple to worship, after spending some time sitting and listening to hymns, one can also receive a meal and chai in the lower hall. Even in India at Amritsar, Sikhs are known to feed the world. Giving and sharing of wealth through generous acts had always been my experience growing up as a young Sikh girl.

Punjab is considered the bread basket of India because of its fertile soil. Maybe this is the reason that Sikhs are so generous in their community, because they have been given the “land of five rivers, which yields an abundant crop and thus it makes it possible to give out of this abundance. Helping the needy and defending the vulnerable has always been important to Sikhs. The gurus taught these commandments many times throughout their lives. It is fundamental to the Sikh point of view. It is considered dutiful for a Sikh to volunteer their time and give 10 per cent of their income to the poor.

Most religions teach people to help others and do good, but Sikhs practise this mandate in very practical ways. Serving the community, or seva, is essential in living a happy and humble life. Working hard and serving one’s community through volunteering or doing other charitable acts are essential for Sikhs to truly practise their faith.

Which brings me to the Guru Nanak Free Kitchen (GNFK), which works in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) to bring food to the marginalized. The GNFK was started in 2006 by individuals who wanted to make a difference in the DTES. The caption on the website for Guru Nanak Free Kitchen reads in bold large script: “LOVE ALL, FEED ALL.” As a community, families often meet around the dinner table to share their love and connection with each other, so the sharing of food is a way of sharing our gratitude. Since 2006, the GNFK has provided 1.1 million meals to the community. It also provides services for 12 Indigenous communities, supplying food and support.

Langar is the community meal shared by all who come to the temple and it has been part of the Sikh community since Guru Nanak, the very first Guru. Although Sikhs are generous with their time and resources, this is something not often publicized or reported in mainstream media. Terrorism and gang activity is what a lot of people associate our community with. For myself, I don’t feel safe in society knowing that these types of stereotypes exist and I have felt the cool response from strangers on public transit since 9/11.

But every Saturday, GNFK serves food to people in the DTES and by doing this, Sikhs share their compassion for the underdog. Just as addiction knows no religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity, Sikhs do not discriminate along these lines. In fact, Sikhs’ spiritual practice underscores these ethics and values. Food is essential and like shelter, is a basic human right.

The food offered by the GNFK is as delicious as it is nutritious. In my time as an active addict in the DTES, had I been approached by GNFK, I would have felt so welcomed and safe that it may have brought me back to my culture much sooner. Feeling that I was rejected by my culture was a huge roadblock and left a gaping hole in my recovery because “good” Punjabi girls just did not do drugs. Being part of one’s culture gives us a feeling of belonging and is paramount in helping a person throughout their entire life. Connection is the opposite of addiction. Secrecy keeps us sick and unfortunately many South Asian women are too afraid and marginalized to talk about drug addiction.

However, through the kind acts of GNFK, I, as a South Asian woman, realize that not every Sikh follower is out to exclude me through judgments and criticisms. This still brings tears of joy to my eyes.

I would like to end by saying how grateful I am to the GNFK for doing the work that they do. To feel included and appreciated, as well as not being judged for where one is at, is so important to addicts and GNFK helps make that possible. T

Jathinder Sandhu is a Megaphone vendor, writer and member of The Shift peer newsroom. For more information about the Guru Nanak Free Kitchen, visit the website at gnfk.org.

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Jathinder Sandhu

Jathinder Sandhu


Jathinder Sandhu is a Surrey resident and a published poet, writer and member of The Shift peer newsroom. She won writing contests in high school, studied poetry post-secondary and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in communications. Jathinder also plays bass guitar.

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