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Spokane Sikh’s serve homeless with mobile langar

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By Tracy Simmons

Lee Butcher (right) and his fiancee eat a brown bug lunch donated from the Sikh Temple/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS
Lee Butcher (right) and his fiancee eat a brown bag lunch donated from the Sikh Temple/Tracy Simmons – SpokaneFAVS

On Saturday afternoon Lee Butcher sat out of the rain under the bridge on Fourth and McClellan streets and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with his fiancée, Heather. Their kitten — JJ — sipped fresh water from a lid.

Soon others came, gratefully taking brown bags from a table with a sign that read, “FREE FOOD – Spokane Sikh Sewa,” which means “selfless service.”

It was the Sikh Temple of Spokane’s first ever mobile langar, a tradition temple member Jaspreet Singh said dates back to the Sikh’s founder, Guru Nanak, more than 500 years ago.

The concept of langar, Singh explained, is that it’s a time for everybody to be in the same place and eat the same food as a way to practice equality. Traditionally a langar is attached to a Sikh temple and is a free community kitchen.

“No one is rich, no one is poor. There is no difference,” he said, adding that it upholds the Sikh principle to serve all humanity.

With enough resources and volunteers on hand, now was the right time to take the langar on the road.

Member Prabh Kochar said it’s a Sikh’s duty to help the homeless so on Saturday volunteers from the temple — called a gurdwara — packed 150  brown bag lunches for Spokane’s downtown homeless, and within about two hours had delivered all the food.

Prabh Kochar, left, talks with a homeless family at a mobile langar - Tracy Simmons/SpokaneFAVS
Prabh Kochar, left, talks with a homeless family at a mobile langar – Tracy Simmons/SpokaneFAVS

“There are a lot of places that don’t serve food or are closed on Saturday, so I think this is really helpful,” said Butcher. “I’m happy to have this group out here, a lot of people will appreciate it.”

Kenneth Harrison, who recently landed in Spokane with his wife, daughter and two dogs, said encountering the mobile langar was a nice welcome to the city. His family is looking for work and housing, and until then are living in shelters or on the streets.

“The langar is a beautiful thing,” he said. “They are beautiful people and I like the idea of spreading awareness.”

Kochar said there about 80 Sikh families in the Spokane area and they are wanting to get more involved in the community — both to serve and to educate people about their faith.

Nimrat Kaur was one of the volunteers from the temple serving at the mobile langar. She said interacting with those gathered under the bridge was not only a way to begin building relationships with Spokane’s homeless, but also a way to practice humility.

“We need to be thankful for each and every thing we have,” she said.

The Sikh Temple plans to host the mobile langar regularly.

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Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of FāVS.News, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.

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