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Santa Maria family feeds those on front lines of coronavirus
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Santa Maria family feeds those on front lines of coronavirus

Arwinder Singh Chahal and his family didn’t plan to cook and serve more than 600 meals to the homeless and to those working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, but when the opportunity arose, he and his family took advantage of it.

“We don’t plan anything,” said Chahal, who goes by the first name Ravi. “But when we see a need, we just jump into it.”

He added, “This is a difficult time we’re all going through. I just like to help out.”

A resident of Santa Maria, Chahal owns 7-Eleven stores in Orcutt, Arroyo Grande and Santa Barbara through which he and his family have supported the communities where his stores are located.

They cooked and served meals to the homeless at the Salvation Army shelter in Santa Maria four times last year and once in January.

They held a back-to-school event that provided free coffee to teachers in appreciation of their work educating students, provided students with backpacks filled with school supplies, provided balls for school playgrounds and supported the Santa Maria High School pumpkin patch.

But when COVID-19 became a threat to Santa Barbara County residents, Chahal and his family looked at the needs and found a way to fill them.

When surgical masks and gloves became scarce, Chahal had more than he needed among those he received from 7-Eleven for use in his stores, so he donated 150 face masks and 2,000 gloves to Marian Regional Medical Center.

“We do donations and give back to the community because selfless service is one of the fundamental principles of Sikhism, the faith we follow, and we also believe that Marian hospital also serves the community by standing on the front line in this very difficult time and we appreciate it very much,” Chahal said.

To say thank you, he and wife Harpreet Kaur Chahal, 7-year-old daughter Harmehar, 6-year-old son Harnihal and mother Surinder Kaur cooked up and served about 129 meals to the front-line workers at Marian.

Chahal said the vegetarian meals consisted of an Indian dish of garbanzo beans called chana masala, rice, pasta and salad.

They also served up meals to personnel at the Santa Maria and Arroyo Grande police departments, Five Cities Fire Authority and the County Sheriff’s Office substation in Santa Maria.

More meals were cooked and served to the homeless in the shelter set up at Santa Maria High School and in a separate event just for the volunteers who work at the shelter.

Chahal feels the help he and his family have been providing isn’t coming just from them.

“I’d like to say thank you to all the customers who shop with us and support us every day,” he said. “It’s like getting a big donation from the community. This is all of them. This is not just me doing it.”

He also said he hopes what he and his family are doing will inspire others.

“Wherever you are, just try to help out,” he said. “Anybody can do these things … as small or as big as you like. You can start with doing five meals. … It helps keep you busy, makes you feel good and you are helping others who really need it.”

The series “Our neighbors: Living through a pandemic” is a collection of short vignettes highlighting the struggle and the hope of residents quarantined on the Central Coast. Through their stories it becomes clear that we really are facing the coronavirus together.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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Every night as twilight slides toward darkness, the exterior lights go off at a house on a quiet street in northwest Santa Maria, the front door opens and a man walks into the driveway. A moment later, the sweet sounds of a saxophone float through the air — the melody of “Amazing Grace.”

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