The recent winter storm added to a year that has already been difficult for many due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Through this challenging time, the caring spirit of our UNT community has continued to shine brightly. On Monday, our community and its kind supporters came together once again to help our own in need.
Thanks to a generous donation from the Dallas Indian Lions Club, of which UNT System Regent A.K. Mago is a charter member of, UNT international students were able to get much needed groceries during a food distribution event on the UNT campus.
“This has been a tough year already with the pandemic and then we had this unprecedented weather event. As a regent of the UNT System and charter member of the Lions Club, I wanted to ensure students had decent meals to eat and knew there was an organization out there that cared about them,” says Mago, who served previously as a district governor of the Lions Club International District 2X-1 and is also founding chairman of the US-India Chamber of Commerce DFW.
Lions Club International is a service organization with a mission to serve the community through more than 46,000 local clubs in more than 200 countries. The Dallas chapter was founded in 1985 and takes to heart its motto of “We serve” through its prolific work supporting local charities and schools throughout Dallas-Fort Worth.
The Lions Club worked with Sampath Pamidimukkala, senior IT support manager and adjunct faculty member in the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism, to coordinate Monday’s event. As the advisor for the UNT India Students Association, Pamidimukkala has been working closely with international students impacted by last month's winter storm and realized most students don't have a car or relative living nearby they could ask for assistance. Many also took a financial hit since they couldn't work during the storm. The week of the winter storm, Pamidimukkala teamed up with a few local nonprofits to distribute food and water to students.
When Mago reached out offering to provide relief to students through a donation from the Lions Club earlier this month, Pamidimukkala partnered with the India Students Association to set up an online sign-up sheet for students who needed groceries. They received 320 requests.
"Dallas Indian Lions Club's initiative to provide meals to students in need has created a ripple effect of kindness," Pamidimukkala says. "Swadeshi Plaza of Frisco stepped up to offer the groceries at their cost price.College of Information Dean Kinshuk helped us with scheduling and in getting the permissions for the space to distribute, and CMHT Dean Jana Hawley helped secure the tent, tables and chairs needed for the event."
To ensure the safety of all those involved, attendees wore face coverings and practiced social distancing throughout the event in Lot 20 by the Murchison Performing Arts Center.Students receiving groceries signed up for a pickup time from noon to 7 p.m. to limit the amount of people there at one time. Their food boxes were filled with rice, wheat flour, seasonings, Chana Dal, Maggi and other foods to keep them fed for a month.
Mago and his wife, Monica, as well as Lions Club members President-elect Nishi Bhatia and Treasurer Rajendra Vankawala stopped by the event to show their support to the students.
“It was nice to see the smiles on the students’ faces and be able to see how this donation touched them. We know many of these students are far from home. We thought these boxes filled with Indian food and spices would give them a piece of comfort during this trying time,” Bhatia says.
“These students are thousands of miles away from family and friends,” Vankawala says. “We took this opportunity to act as the students’ local extended family and are so pleased to be able to offer them care and moral support. We are improving the world through kindness and it’s an incredible feeling for everyone involved.”
A group of 25 volunteers from the UNT India Students Association helped distribute the food at the event.
"Our students certainly appreciate the support and are willing to pay it forward by helping new international students coming to UNT," Pamidimukkala says. "We are blessed to be surrounded by a caring community here at UNT."