Hurricane Harvey: Sikh community across the U.S. comes together to help flood victims

Click to play video: 'Texas deputy organizes Sikh community to deliver aid to Hurricane Harvey victims'
Texas deputy organizes Sikh community to deliver aid to Hurricane Harvey victims
ABOVE: Texas deputy organizes Sikh community to deliver aid to Hurricane Harvey victims. – Sep 6, 2017

In February of 2015, Sandeep Dhaliwal became the first full-time police officer in Texas history to be allowed to wear his turban while on duty.

Dhaliwal, who immigrated to the United States from the Punjab region of India in 1994, was for years not permitted to wear his traditional religious headwear while on duty.

“We had to go through the process, [address] all the safety concerns,” Dhaliwal told Global News. “Once everybody was satisfied, [my turban] was approved at a news conference.”
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Cut to this past week. Dhaliwal, a deputy with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, was grappling, along with his department and the community at large, with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, which dumped upwards of 50 inches of rain in Harris County.

“[Our department] was on 12-hour duty from August 25 to September 1,” Dhaliwal said. “We were on mandatory [duty], all days off were cancelled.”

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Once he finally was given a day off on September 2, Dhaliwal decided to volunteer at his local church, where flood relief supplies were being collected. That’s where he saw something that moved him.

“I see little kids, and [volunteers] were waiting for a forklift but the little kids were like ‘No no no, we’re going to unload this,’” Dhaliwal said. “They unloaded the entire trailer, item by item, by hand.”

Deputy Dhaliwal decided to record the touching moment, posting the video online and making an appeal to anyone in Texas’ Sikh community to donate flood relief supplies.

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“Houston Sikh Community along with United Sikhs at SIkh National Center collecting donations for Harvey flood victims,” Dhaliwal wrote on Facebook, along with information about where to donate money for flood relief and appeal to send more supplies.

He couldn’t have imagined what would happen next.

“We requested supplies at the church, [I said] I would be at the church. United Sikhs, the national organization, they came to Texas and I met them while I was on duty. They were here first, and it kind of snowballed from there,” Dhaliwal said. “People started calling, because of the video the message went out. We started having truckloads and truckloads of supplies [delivered].”
A man walks through floods waters and onto the main road after surveying his property which was hit by Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas, U.S. August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Dhaliwal said he’s not sure how much supplies have been delivered in total since his message went out, but estimated it was around 20 tractor-trailer loads in total, most of them from the California Sikh community. Videos posted to his Facebook page shows six tractor-trailers arriving from Sacramento, Calif. Another shows a truck arriving from Fresno.

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“Two businessmen are coming here from Seattle, I’m picking them up from the airport,” Dhaliwal said. “They’re going to come here, see the area and what we need, and they’re going to [rent] as many trucks as we need and stay here for a few days.”

Dhaliwal said he’s not affiliated with any government agency or organization. Instead, he and other volunteers – some 200 in total as of Wednesday – are delivering supplies personally to the areas in Texas that were hardest-hit by Hurricane Harvey.

And while the supplies were donated and delivered by Sikhs, Dhaliwal stressed that they’re not intended to be delivered just to Sikhs – quite the opposite, in fact.

“It’s for anyone,” Dhaliwal said. “Anyone, anyone, anyone. Anyone who is in need. We just want to give back and help the community. That’s where our focus is.”

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On Monday, Dhaliwal and a group of 25 volunteers delivered a truckload of supplies to Rockport, Texas. Residents of Rockport were among the first in the U.S. hit by Harvey, which came ashore August 25 as a Category 4 hurricane.

“They were pretty amazed,” Dhaliwal said. “They actually didn’t know anything about Sikhs. They did not know. A lady asked me ‘please don’t take me wrong, I want to know more about you guys.’ She started crying, and I said ‘Yes ma’am, I’m happy to tell you why we’re here.’ There were hugs and prayers. It was pretty amazing.”

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Shane Johnson removes items from a family home destroyed in the wake of Harvey, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Shane Johnson removes items from a family home destroyed in the wake of Harvey, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay).

Dhaliwal said the relief effort will go on as long as supplies continue to come in. Sikhs who are unable to deliver supplies in person have begun arranging deliveries via Amazon, something he says Sikhs in Canada can do if they want to contribute.

“[Clean] water supplies are the biggest problem right now. That and the food of course,” Dhaliwal said. “People will need help rebuilding their houses. It’s going to be a long process. There are a lot of towns we know still need help.”

Anyone interested in helping can contact Dhaliwal directly via Facebook. The same goes for any community in Texas still in need of flood relief supplies.

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