Amid the chaos created by the vicious pandemic that engulfed New York City and the rest of the modern world, a Indian sweet-shop in Jackson Heights found a way to serve thousands of healthcare and essential workers.
Rajbhog Foods donated more than 14 tons of food, nearly 27,000 thousand pounds in meals to healthcare and essential workers during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our businesses and employees are all located in the New York & New Jersey area. We were in the epicenter of everything. Since we are not doctors or nurses, this was the only thing we could do to help,” Sachin Mody, owner of Rajbhog Foods, told Desi Talk in an interview.
Founded by their mother, Lata, nearly 39 years ago, Rajbhog, a former Indian mithai (sweet) shop, has become a bustling food manufacturing operation. Today Rajbhog Foods provides Indian food to a broad sector of industries ranging from airline and transportation to restaurants and major grocery store chains like Costco and others.
Sachin, who runs the family-owned business with elder brother Sanjiv and his father Ajit, says that shortly after the coronavirus outbreak, the company’s transportation sector customers started canceling orders – leaving Rajbhog with an oversupply of food.
“At the end of March, we started getting messages from our food service customers, and others that they are canceling orders and won’t need our product. We didn’t know when they were coming back to business,” Sachin Mody said.
So the Mody family decided that rather than wasting the food, it would be better to donate it to workers fighting the pandemic on the frontlines.
Delivering Food to the Frontlines Amid Covid 19
Rajbhog donated food to more than 30 hospitals, medical centers, universities, and police departments in New York and New Jersey, including the Jersey Shore Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital, Clara Mass Hospital, East Orange Hospital and Elmhurst Hospital in Queens that made headlines for being one of New York’s hardest-hit boroughs.
Elmhurst Hospital, a 545-bed city hospital that serves a mostly working-class immigrant population had been operating at more than 100 percent capacity. And donations like those from Rajbhog helped to keep many healthcare and essential workers fed.
“During the peak of the pandemic, healthcare workers were so overwhelmed that many of them didn’t even have enough time to take a break and eat. We were able to provide food for residents and interns as well. Many people would take the food home to their families,” Mody told Desi Talk.
Through partnerships with local nonprofit community organizations and food banks, such as the United Sikhs Food Bank, BAPS Charitable Foundation, and Rescuing Leftover Meals, Rajbhog was able to distribute food items to thousands of needy families.
“We reached out to local organizations like the Sikh Cultural Center in New York and philanthropists in the New Jersey area to help us distribute food. Being based in Jersey and the New York area, we wanted to help in the heart of the pandemic,” Mody added.
Mody says that the Rajbhog took extraordinary measures to prevent employees from getting the virus. “We made sure that all of our drivers and employees had proper PPE and practiced social distancing guidelines. Our USDA facilities already require gloves, and now all employees are required to wear masks,” Mody said.
Keeping The Workforce Employed Amid the Pandemic
Mody says giving back to others has had another much-needed consequence for Rajbhog’s business: keep their employees working. “I needed to employ my people. We knew we would need to bring back our staff when the orders start coming back in,” Mody said
At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and just three weeks ago Rajbhog’s manufacturing facilities ran on 5% to 20% of their usual staff, Mody says now staff at Rajbhog’s facilities are back up to 80%. “Realistically, as a business owner, you have to chalk up 2020 as being gone, and look forward to what 2021 will hold,” Mody said.
But Mody says the pandemic has provided a new perspective. “The one thing that it offered us as a business was a moment to breathe. We were growing so fast, and sometimes when that’s happening, you aren’t able to see the full picture of what’s going on and reflect properly,” Mody said.
Mody says the relationships Rajbhog has built amid the pandemic will prosper into new partnerships. “Covid-19 has done what it’s done. The idea now is to learn and grow. We now look at not only what’s good for us but also others,” Mody said. “Before this virus, there was a need, but we were blind to it. It opens up your eyes- that’s what this time did for us as a company.”