Their home country in crisis, Indian Americans in Greater Hartford are raising money for emergency COVID-19 relief

Rebecca Lurye, Hartford Courant
·4 min read

Srividya Srinivasan starts each day the same way, checking her WhatsApp messages for news of COVID-19′s spread in southwest India.

Before starting work, the Avon woman and president of a local Indian cultural association learns who in her in-laws’ community is the latest to quarantine, test positive or go to the hospital with the virus. The worst news comes by phone, with calls about deaths interrupting her teaching job and motivating her recent efforts to raise emergency relief funds for her pandemic-stricken home country.

As COVID-19 cases have surged in India the past month, local charities, businesses and temple communities in Greater Hartford have answered the call for aid.

The Kerala Association of Connecticut, which Srinivasan leads, hopes to raise $5,000 in the coming weeks for social work organizations in India, where about 3,400 people are dying each day from COVID-19.

“It’s going into the right hands right away,” Srinivasan said.

In the first 24 hours of KACT’s online fundraiser, the non-profit collected more than $2,500. Srinivasan said many Indian Americans feel helpless as their families and friends abroad experience the impact of new COVID-19 variants and shortages of hospital beds, oxygen, doctors and vaccines.

On Sunday, she learned of a medical college in her home state of Kerala that is running out of oxygen. She also worries about her younger friends and family after hearing of at least three people in their 30s and 40s dying of COVID-19.

Fundraising, “it’s the least we can do but unfortunately it is also the best we can do. That’s the really weird situation,” Srinivasan said. “Personally I would always think money is the easiest way to help somebody but at this point in time this is the only way we can help.”

In East Hartford, Connecticut’s only Hare Krishna congregation is raising money for a new campaign launched Sunday by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. Their proceeds will help support a Hare Krishna hospital in Mumbai and people in need in the Indian state of West Bengal and the country of Bangladesh to the east.

In Glastonbury, the Milan Cultural Association says it has funded the purchase of 80 hospital-grade oxygen concentrators, which typically cost more than $1,000 and are in short supply in India.

The devices are being sent primarily to Delhi, India’s capital, where overwhelmed hospitals have begun to run out of oxygen, according to national media reports.

“The people over there, they need the help and they’re dying in a very big number. This is something very scary,” said Suresh Sharma, chairman of the Milan board. “We haven’t seen like this.”

At the same time, he said, many people from India living in Connecticut feel a responsibility to their parent country and are looking for ways to help.

“We’re getting a lot of calls everyday, ‘Hey, what can we do?” from everywhere,” Sharma said.

In Manchester, Kumar’s Connecticut restaurant decided to hold a weekend fundraiser to raise money for on-the-ground efforts in India.

Aravinth Raj, who does public relations for the Tolland Turnpike restaurant, got connected by a friend to a Boston chapter of the non-profit Association for India’s Development. The Maryland-based charity has been sending cash, protective equipment, ventilators and other medical supplies to hard-hit cities and villages.

The situation is most dire in central India but worsening in most Indian states, including in south India where the owners and staff of Kumar’s Connecticut have close family and friends. In the last month, Raj says he has lost several friends and relatives to the virus.

Based on media reports and his family’s experiences, Raj expects COVID-19 cases to overwhelm south India in the coming weeks.

“We’re waiting and watching,” he said.

“To be frank, it’s devastating,” added Krishna Seenivasan, a co-owner of Kumar’s Connecticut.

His immediate family lives in Chennai, the capital of an eastern state that is experiencing a daily average of 18,000 new cases and more than 100 deaths. Most of his relatives contracted the virus, and his mother is recovering but “not completely out of it,” Seenivasan said.

While he fears their community will soon experience a dearth of oxygen, hospital beds, vaccines and doctors, his restaurant is directing its donations to where the need is greatest today.

Seenivasan said the community turned out in force this past weekend, placing enough orders to raise an estimated $1,500 for the Association for India’s Development. He hopes more Indian-owned businesses will hold similar fundraisers in the coming weeks.

“If they also come forward and do this, it’s gonna help a lot of people,” he said.

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at rlurye@courant.com.