How an Idea Turned into 90,000+ Hot Meals Served

May, 2023 by Rahi Shah, Janvee Patel
One evening in late April, Varun Gandhi got a call from Adhir Shah — having seen people struggling to provide for their families and facing loss of work and loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, he wanted to lend a helping hand.

Through Facebook posts, Whatsapp messages, flyer distribution, and word of mouth, Varun and Adhir spread the word. And their networks leaned in to serve the community’s needs.

Two weeks later, they served approximately 1,500 people through their first grocery drive. Recognizing a continuing need in the community and the positive impact they were able to make, they decided to do it again. And with a strong and widespread network in the Los Angeles/Orange County area, they were able to find helping hands.

Another two weeks later, they served their first 100 hot meals. As the next two weeks progressed, they doubled to 200 hot meals. Realizing the demand, they decided to expand to 1,000 meals, but this meant more work and thus more funding. At this time, Dr. Nitin Shah joined the team, helping secure funding and meal commitments from nonprofit partners, like Sarva Mangal Trust Foundation and the Wadher Family Trust.

Beginning in July, they recruited more volunteers, found food suppliers, partnered with nonprofits to help distribute food, and raised awareness about the project in their community. Shrenik Shah, Adhir’s son, was roped in to help the project scale; he coordinated with volunteers, donors, and supplies on the ground. Dr. Shah helped assemble an in-house meal preparation team, enabling the team to serve 2,000 meals a week. Varun, on the other hand, spent much of the early pandemic in Atlanta. Despite the distance, he was able to spearhead the outreach effort, forging connections with organizations across the region to enable meal distribution.

Now, every Sunday, the team gathers about 20 volunteers together to help cook and package the meals, serving 2,000–2,500 people weekly.

Finding Community Support

To scale their project’s impact, they needed more hands. As word spread, people of all ages showed up to volunteer. High school students in need of service hours signed up to help, and as their parents came to drop them off, some of them stuck around and brought their friends. Volunteers came from several communities; Varun and Shrenik reached out to various cultural organizations including the Gujarati Samaj, the Jain Center of Southern California, and Sanatan Mandir.


While some started volunteering with the notion that this was a short-term project, they also found comfort in the socialization volunteering days brought during the otherwise quiet pandemic.

Although community support was crucial to scale up the project, they also needed those with domain knowledge and connections on the ground all over Los Angeles to drive the impact.

Forging Connections

Working with a network of nonprofit organizations proved essential to optimizing distribution efforts. Presently, Shrenik and Varun work with Joy of Sharing, which sponsors resources (including the kitchen, which is shared with the Sanatan Mandir) for the project.

Forging Connections

Apart from Joy of Sharing, Varun and Shrenik have partnered with 25 other nonprofit organizations which help distribute the prepared meals to over 35 cities in the Los Angeles/Orange County metro area. Whenever they have leftover funds to be donated, they reach out to their partner organizations to see if they can help fulfill any other needs. In the past, they have donated supplies like beanies, gloves, and tarps. Depending on partner needs at the time and flexibility in their budget, Varun and Shrenik strive to help in any way possible. By tapping into their networks, they created a cross-community effort that resulted in serving those in need in a real and meaningful way.

Impact of COVID-19

Despite the hurdles that came with the ongoing global pandemic, Shrenik and Varun were able to successfully organize a community effort to help those in need. They implemented a contactless drop-off system in which people could drive up, open the trunk of their car, and have volunteers place groceries and meals inside.

The hesitancy that came with the potential spread of the virus was countered by careful planning to mitigate the possibility of a widespread outbreak within their volunteer base. Volunteers chose their own shifts, and, for the most part, came in contact with the same group of volunteers each week. This made it easier to contact trace individuals in case someone tested positive. Social distancing during the packaging and cooking process was also encouraged and masks were required at all times.

From Grocery Drives to Meal Distribution

When they initially started with a grocery drive, the team wasn’t thinking explicitly about optimization. After a few runs serving both hot meals and groceries, they began to notice patterns of waste. This motivated them to redirect all of their efforts to the hot meals, where they tended to see more success and impact.

To serve 2,000+ meals per week, they cook in an industrial kitchen. Their raw food supplies come in bulk, with a weekly menu budgeted out with nutrition in mind. Volunteers help separate the bulk products into smaller portions to distribute, cook the predetermined items, and package the meals. The packed meals are then picked up by their partners on-site.

Until recently, Varun and Shrenik would sit down to do this week-by-week. Now, with the regularity they’ve achieved, they can schedule and plan meals by the month to increase the campaign’s efficiency and focus on maximizing their impact with the funds they have.

While the journey from the first grocery drive to today hasn’t been easy, perhaps the most impactful step was the first one — turning the idea into practice. That genuine feeling of Daan, or service, in Adhir’s mind was powerful enough to manifest as a phone call to Varun to get this kick-started. And the fact that so many people have gotten on board to help consistently is a testament to how fulfilling and contagious this sentiment is.

Rahi Shah and Janvee Patel

Acknowledgment:  Young Jains of America

Article originally published at

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