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2019 FOG Toy Drive: Bringing smiles to the faces of the less fortunate

2019 FOG Toy Drive: Bringing smiles to the faces of the less fortunate
December 19
15:01 2019
Newark Mayor Alan Nagy speaking. Back row (left to right): Commissioner Kamal Nair, Atul Shah, Charu Vaidya, Veena Birla, Dr. Japra and Manali Brahmbhatt

Newark Mayor Alan Nagy speaking. Back row (left to right): Commissioner Kamal Nair, Atul Shah, Charu Vaidya, Veena Birla, Dr. Japra and Manali Brahmbhatt

LAKSHMI IYER
India Post News Service

FREMONT, California: Festival of Globe (FOG), the roster of events under the umbrella of the nonprofit Federation of Indo Americans of Northern California (FIA), held its annual Holiday Toy and Blanket Drive on December 15 at the Fremont Hindu Temple.

Every year, this drive serves the less fortunate kids in the area – children of incarcerated parents, juvenile detainees and economically underprivileged youngsters.

Chairperson of this project, Manali Brahmbhatt, with her group of supporters picked up toys and blankets from schools, after-school centers, neighborhoods, pharmacies, companies, the temple itself and other locations. In addition, FOG members brought in their generous gifts.

The event was well attended by FOG members as well as public official dignitaries.

Founder and Convener of FOG, Dr Romesh Japra, who is also the Publisher of India Post, inaugurated the program, saying that the season of giving started with Diwali, the Festival of Lights and went on through Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Fremont Vice Mayor Dr. Raj Salwan speaking. From left to right: Commissioner Kamal Nair, Atul Shah, Manali Brahmbhatt, Fremont Council member Yang Shao, FOG Founder Dr. Romesh Japra, Dr. Raj Salwan, FIA President Rajesh Verma and Newark Mayor Alan Nagy

Fremont Vice Mayor Dr. Raj Salwan speaking. From left to right: Commissioner Kamal Nair, Atul Shah, Manali Brahmbhatt, Fremont Council member Yang Shao, FOG Founder Dr. Romesh Japra, Dr. Raj Salwan, FIA President Rajesh Verma and Newark Mayor Alan Nagy

He called upon Commissioner Kamal Nair and Chairperson of the FOG Holiday Toy and Blanket Drive, Manali Brahmbhatt, to come up on stage. Commending them for their efforts, he said, “I tell you… my hats off to them. They eat, sleep and breathe this passion that they have. If everyone were like this in the world, there would be no hunger, there would be no need, there will be no more poverty or anything like that, but I think, unfortunately, there’s only a few that have that kind of passion.”

Commissioner Kamal Nair said, “Yes, we can’t all be the same but with encouragement, we can teach them (juvenile detainees) to be somebody else.” She added that she was very thankful to have gotten into this initiative 16 or 17 years ago as a Commissioner.

Having seen women, children and juvenile detainees during her tenure, she said “We need to teach the kids to be better, to teach them to do something that is great. We have one life. We can never come back but what we can do is put a smile on someone’s face.”

Commissioner Nair expressed her pride for her niece Brahmbhatt’s work. She also acknowledged the selfless efforts of Sunita Japra, Dr Japra’s wife, who had been quietly contributing significantly to these charitable initiatives with her own efforts of cooking meals for the less fortunate.

Brahmbhatt thanked all the assembled people, the Fremont Temple and FIA/FOG. She said, “This is something, a privilege that I am here.” About the Toy Drive, she informed everyone that this was being conducted for the past 16 years for needy children.

Brahmbhatt expressed her gratitude to all the donors and her team of volunteers – Ashvin Panchal, Charu Vaidya, Veena Birla and Atul Shah – and said: “These people went to neighbors and went around and collected so many toys. We have a very good team of people here.”
She also gave a shout out to the Fremont Indian Senior Center, Amrit Chugh and Rakesh Kapoor, thanking them for inviting her to their center.

From left to right: Manali Brahmbhatt, Dr. Romesh Japra and FIA President Rajesh Verma

From left to right: Manali Brahmbhatt, Dr. Romesh Japra and FIA President Rajesh Verma

Dr Japra then called upon the elected officials and other dignitaries to come up on stage. Newark Mayor Alan Nagy, who Dr Japra described as a great statesman, thanked the FOG Founder and said, “It’s a pleasure to be here on behalf of the Newark City Council and all the citizens of Newark. And certainly, it wouldn’t be possible without a champion. And the champion in the South Bay and certainly in this area is Dr Japra for all of the things he does and this is just one of many. We thank you for your unmitigated service to humanity.”

Addressing the crowd, he added, “This event is so important to the children of the area. They are going to benefit from it. And you come here with your heart and through your gifts of these toys and blankets and everything else, you give the gifts of kindness to these children. And it proves again and again, that truly, service to humanity is the best work of one’s life. I thank each of you for being part of that effort.”

Fremont Vice Mayor Dr. Raj Salwan said, “This is one of my favorite events because this is an event to give back to the children. Our community has been very blessed and very fortunate in this country to get all the great benefits and this is a good way to give back… and I can’t think of anything (anyone) more needy than our kids.”

Fremont Council member Yang Shao chipped in, “I am so proud to be a part of this tradition. As you all know, Christmas season is the season of love. And the local Indian community, blessed with so many brave volunteers, use your actions to show what love is.”

Fremont Police Captain John Harnett expressed his sincere thanks and said: “My heart is filled with gratitude to be here today. It’s so special… it’s such an amazing event that the community puts on and we are so fortunate to be a part of it. So thank you very much.”

Further, he added, “Our success in the police department is built on the foundation of community and we feel so fortunate to have such a diverse and bright, wonderful Indian community.”

From left to right: Commissioner Kamal Nair, Yogi Chugh, Mrs. Sunita Japra, Veena Birla, Manali Brahmbhatt, FIA President Rajesh Verma, Manorama Joshi and Charu Vaidya

From left to right: Commissioner Kamal Nair, Yogi Chugh, Mrs. Sunita Japra, Veena Birla, Manali Brahmbhatt, FIA President Rajesh Verma, Manorama Joshi and Charu Vaidya

Fremont Mayor Lily Mei who made a surprise entry later, thanked everyone saying, “I wanted to thank FOG and the Hindu Temple and all of you in the community for coming up and providing our blessings to those who really need them this holiday season. And so, to continue with this annual tradition, is truly a blessing.” She concluded by wishing everyone a peaceful, healthy, joyous holiday season.

Sheriff Alok Patel from Santa Clara recounted an incident a few years ago when a couple of sheriffs discovered that the kids’ Christmas presents had been stolen from a house. For Christmas, they came bearing gifts and food. It turned out that the neighbor did not have any Christmas gifts so the sheriffs bought them some, too. Now, they put up an annual block party in San Jose with lots of food and gifts. They have received funding for the event and about 1300 people showed up last year.

Sheriff Patel said, “You see the smiles on the kids’ faces, it just melts your heart.” He extended an invitation to everyone to attend this year’s block party at Kirk Avenue in San Jose from 5:.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. on December 20.

Ritesh Tandon, who is running for Congress and has himself been involved with charities for many years, said, “I can tell you… last twenty years, working for the underprivileged children, underprivileged people, this gift is a LOT to them. And I thank you from my heart that you guys have made a difference in their lives. This is what humanity is.”

He emphasized that a lot more was needed to be done. Pointing to the issue of homelessness, he said that out of the top five cities facing homelessness, four were right here in California.

Another candidate for Congress, Nisha Sharma, thanked Dr Japra for giving them a platform throughout the year (her husband is astrologer Vaneet Sharma who runs Astro Vastu Solutions, a regular top sponsor at FOG events) and said, “Toy Drive is my favorite because I see how communities come together for this noble cause and yes, I do believe that kids in juvenile centers and shelters, they do deserve this. They are just like us. And if they are underprivileged, but God has blessed us with the sources, we should come together and join hands and bring smiles on their faces.”

She added that she could relate to this as a mother of three children and how even a small gift such as a candy could bring a smile to their faces.

The Indian Consulate General in San Francisco had its representatives Deputy Consul Rajesh Naik and Community Consul Sumati Saksena Rao attending the event. Saksena Rao said that it was wonderful to see that giving was truly epitomized at the event. She added, “There is nothing more beautiful than the smile on a child’s face. It would be wonderful to see so many smiles on so many children’s faces.” She concluded by wishing everyone happy holidays.

Deputy Consul Rajesh Naik who has prior experience as a Counselor himself, said that it was a pleasure and a privilege for the Consulate to be a part of this tradition of giving. He added that when one shares a blanket or when one gives a toy, it is not the blanket that gives the warmth, the warmest thing is actually on the part of the people receiving it.

“The warmest thing is to see that someone is there to care for them, someone is there to share for them,” he said.

Honorable Judge Ursula Jones Dickson from Alameda County Juvenile Justice Department said that she was absolutely overwhelmed to see the amount of love from the community. Judge Dickson has served in Alameda County as a juvenile court judge for five of the six years that she has been here. She said, “As I was coming to this event this morning, I thought about the concept of legacy. Most of us think that legacy is a personal thing, at least in this country… what you have, what you bought, what you look like, the kind of money that you make, but truly legacy is bigger than the self because the collective is bigger than the individual. And this, frankly, is your legacy. What you do for the community is your legacy.”

She applauded the generosity towards people who did not necessarily come to the temple, and said that this would have an exponential effect on the underprivileged.

Commissioner Vamsey Palagummi from the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Commission, who is currently an attorney, made a startling revelation: “About 18 years ago, I was incarcerated in juvenile hall based on some very serious crimes. And without the unwavering support of my parents and this community, I would not be here. When you think of the kids who are locked up right now in juvenile hall, these kids have so much potential, so much wisdom, so much resiliency. They don’t necessarily have the same levels of support that I had. So what you see here today, it is really emblematic of the kind of support that Fremont can offer. And it allows these kids to be just kids for that one day.”

Esa Ehmen-Krause, Assistant Chief Probation Officer in the Alameda County Probation Department, said that the recipients of these presents would be able to pass them on to their siblings and even their own children. At one center, she said, they had about 1500 young people.

Superintendent of Camp Sweeney, Jessica Fort said about the Toy Drive: “It’s really going to make a difference in the rehabilitation (of juvenile detainees), making them feel that they can make better choices in life. That’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take feeling like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, bigger than their families, bigger than their situations. And your generosity provides that to them.” She thanked everyone on behalf of Camp Sweeney and Juvenile Hall.

A representative from the office of California Assembly member, Kansen Chu, presented Dr Japra with a Certificate of Recognition for FIA/FOG.

Dr Japra also called upon a youngster Srinath Pasumarthi, a junior high schooler, to speak about a nonprofit that he has founded for terminally ill children called Joyous Moments.

Finally, the FOG Founder said that he wanted this tradition to continue not just for decades, but for centuries. Everyone assembled was invited to partake a delicious lunch in the temple.

(Some quotes have been edited.)

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