In Sikhism, the word seva means “selfless service.” Growing up in the religion, 17-year-old Sehaj Grewal has always seen community involvement as a pillar of life. So, when he came back from a volunteer event handing out meals one day, he was concerned about the number of people who needed help. His research showed that one in five children in the U.S. struggle with hunger, a statistic that was one in eight before the pandemic. Twenty-two percent of children in Richmond City face the same challenge, a number that led Sehaj and his co-founders to form SevaTruck RVA to start addressing it.
Over 100 volunteers, including Sehaj and his family, collect and grow food, donations and supplies. They have served over 23,000 nutritious meals to members of the community since it’s the organization’s inception in 2021. Local partners include farms who donate food grown in the community to the community. And SevaTruck proudly serves only what its founders would put on their own tables.
Aside from volunteering at events, Sehaj is a student ambassador and has established a group of volunteers in his own high school as well as those around the country. He learned to write grants and, among others, has secured a $120,000 in-kind grant from Google AdWords this year that will allow them to expand the reach of the organization online.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Volunteering is just sort of ingrained in my life, because a big tenet of Sikhism, my religion, is to serve and contribute to the community. Ever since I was a kid, my parents have instilled those values in me. I applied those values to my community and saw there was a need. That really inspired me to volunteer and help the community out.
Tell us about your volunteer role with SevaTruck RVA.
I help out a lot with the planning for events including our annual fundraiser, where local businesses donate products or services for auction. Last year’s event raised over $15,000. I also help with writing grants. And I help get more people involved. I got some classmates and some other people in my community to help volunteer. On weekends, I often do food distribution events. I’ve built some decent connections with people and they all remember me as the “burrito man,” because I am usually passing out burritos, which I find funny. Overall, I just help the organization run smoothly.
What inspired you to get started with this initiative?
I once went to downtown Richmond with my family to pass out meals. I didn’t know until then that there was so much food insecurity in Richmond. So, I went online to research and found it’s well above the national average. In order to solve that, I talked to my parents. Then, they talked to some family friends, and together, we started SevaTruck RVA as an offshoot of SevaTruck in Northern Virginia. RVA means Richmond, Virginia. Initially, we planned to hand out food from trucks but found it was easier to just prepare it in a kitchen. It was also originally intended to serve kids who qualify for a free school lunch but has expanded to include the unhoused.
What are your long-term plans or goals for the organization?
The goal for the future is to get as many people as possible to give out as many meals as possible. And to get more money from grants. I always hope there aren’t any other kids out there who are going to bed hungry and that they can go to bed with a warm, nutritious meal.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part is the internal feeling I get when I know that I’m helping others who struggle with food insecurity. It really humbles me and fills me the gratitude for the conditions I’ve been in, and it helps me understand the perspective of others who aren’t as food secure as I am.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Not everyone is born with the same deck of cards. I’ve also learned that, usually whenever I pass out meals downtown, a lot of the people are kind of lonely and want to have a conversation. So, if they want to, I start up a banter. It feels good to know that they have someone to talk to.
Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
If nobody else will help people who may need it out there, who will? At the end of the day, they also have lives, and I think it’s our duty as people who have been born with a certain deck of cards to help others however we can.
Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?
Start now. Go out there and see what’s needed in your community, and try to tackle that problem to the best of your ability.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I’ve been repeating this, but I want others to learn that it’s very important to help others, and even a small contribution will go a long way. Even if they just do one volunteer food distribution event. The meals that they pack and pass out will help keep families from starving or going to bed with an empty stomach. I want others to know that their contributions go a long way.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Sehaj? Find local volunteer opportunities.