Season for Sharing: Grassroot Projects helps immigrant families

Joanna Lopez, 37, and her husband both caught COVID-19 last winter and could not leave the house for work. They wondered how they would provide for their five kids, including an infant and a toddler.

That's when the Grassroot Projects stepped in. The Indiana nonprofit supports children of immigrant families, whether that's by sponsoring extracurricular activities or by sending care packages containing hygiene products, clothes, baby formula and school supplies.

For Lopez, whose family is from Honduras, the care package was a lifeline. Volunteers delivered diapers, wipes, clothes and children's jackets to Lopez's front door, which enabled her to stay home while she was sick.

"I never thought I was going to be the one that needed the help," said Lopez, who herself is a volunteer with the Immigrant Welcome Center. "They were there for us when we most needed it."

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Joanna Lopez, left, looks at toys her son, Macario Montes-Lopez received on this trip to the Grassroot Projects storage facility Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Carmel. Grassroot Projects ​Program Coordinator Rosana Marin and Co-Founder and President Priya Gangwani, right, look on. The small nonprofit organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families.
Joanna Lopez, left, looks at toys her son, Macario Montes-Lopez received on this trip to the Grassroot Projects storage facility Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Carmel. Grassroot Projects ​Program Coordinator Rosana Marin and Co-Founder and President Priya Gangwani, right, look on. The small nonprofit organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families.

Lopez recounted the story while standing inside a small storage unit in Carmel where volunteers typically gather to pluck the clothing and supplies from rows of bins to combine them into cardboard boxes that are delivered to families in need. Many of the products are new; some are gently used and have been donated to the nonprofit.

The storage unit serves as Grassroot Projects' headquarters, more or less. The nonprofit does not have an official address in order to reduce overhead expenses.

"Where all the action happens is our storage unit in Carmel," said Priya Gangwani, president and cofounder of Grassroot Projects.

Grassroot Projects ​Co-Founder and President Priya Gangwani, left, and Program Coordinator Rosana Marin stand in the nonprofit's storage facility Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Carmel. The small organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families.
Grassroot Projects ​Co-Founder and President Priya Gangwani, left, and Program Coordinator Rosana Marin stand in the nonprofit's storage facility Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Carmel. The small organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families.

Most of the organization's volunteers are mothers and people of color, Gangwani said. In addition to Spanish, they have volunteers who speak languages native to countries such as Nigeria, Myanmar/Burma and Haiti.

That's just one way the nonprofit is able to serve a range of immigrant families. Often when families arrive to the United States, Gangwani said, they struggle with communication because of language barriers. They also don't know who they can trust when they need help.

Gangwani, 42, came to Indiana as an international student after attending physical therapy school in India. Back in India she met her dormmate, ​Nimisha Goyal. Both ended up enrolling at the University of Indianapolis.

Then in 2017 they decided to launch Grassroot Projects. Goyal runs a twin operation in Seattle while Gangwani handles the Indianapolis area. In addition to providing care packages, the nonprofit sponsors two months of classes for kids who want to enroll in programs like karate or swimming.

Grassroot Projects received a $15,000 grant during the last Season for Sharing campaign.

All told, the operation is pretty straightforward: "We ask the family what they need and we give it to them," Gangwani said.

And if an immigrant family lacks transportation or is stuck at home — like what happened to Lopez last winter — then it's no problem because the Grassroot Projects will deliver the box to their door.

"I feel like (Grassroot Projects) connects with immigrant families in a way that other organizations don't," Lopez said. "Immigrants also trust Priya more because she's an immigrant herself."

Grassroot Projects Program Coordinator Rosana Marin gathers items to add to a care package for a family, in the Grassroot Projects storage facility Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Carmel. The small nonprofit organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families.
Grassroot Projects Program Coordinator Rosana Marin gathers items to add to a care package for a family, in the Grassroot Projects storage facility Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Carmel. The small nonprofit organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families.

What is your organization's mission?

​Grassroot Projects creates and supports equitable communities for immigrant and refugee children by removing barriers and empowering kids to reach their full potential as they enjoy their childhoods.

How many people do you serve?

In Indiana, the nonprofit serves 35 families per month. That represents 1,658 total people through the end of October 2022, including 938 children. (Grassroot Projects also helps people in Washington but those numbers are not included here.)

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What is your organization’s No. 1 need?

Grassroot Projects needs money to help buy supplies for people in need. Recurring donors can sign up on the nonprofit's website. The group also needs volunteers who can help with deliveries and assembling care packages, as well as support for its website, including content writing.

This is the logo of Grassroot Projects, seen on a t-shirt Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Carmel. The small nonprofit organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families. The idea of the logo emphasizes that the children are the future.
This is the logo of Grassroot Projects, seen on a t-shirt Monday, Nov. 7, 2022 in Carmel. The small nonprofit organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families. The idea of the logo emphasizes that the children are the future.

How can people get involved?

Most of Grassroot Projects' work is completed by volunteers who assemble care packages and drive them to families' homes. Volunteers can sign up on the nonprofit's website.

IndyStar Season for Sharing

The shared mission of IndyStar’s Our Children initiative and annual Season for Sharing campaign is to harness the power of journalism to make a difference in the lives of Central Indiana youth. We invite you to join us by making a financial contribution. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust will match donations dollar-for-dollar, up to $25,000. All charitable donations are tax-deductible.

Funds raised during this year’s campaign will be distributed in early 2023 to organizations serving primarily Marion County youth and families.

Go to indystar.com/ocdonate to give online. If you prefer to send a check, please mail to: Central Indiana Community Foundation, Attn: Our Children, 615 N. Alabama St., Suite 300, Indianapolis, IN 46204. You also can donate by texting “SHARING” to 80888.

Deisy Sanchez, left, standing with her children, Megan and Dennis, is happy with the care package delivered by Grassroot Projects Program Coordinator Rosana Marin, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. The small nonprofit organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families.
Deisy Sanchez, left, standing with her children, Megan and Dennis, is happy with the care package delivered by Grassroot Projects Program Coordinator Rosana Marin, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. The small nonprofit organization helps children of immigrant and refugee families.

About Grassroot Projects

Address: The nonprofit does not maintain a physical address.

Phone: 317-622-6940 (but email is best: info@grassrootprojects.org)

Website: https://www.grassrootprojects.org/

Contact IndyStar investigative reporter Ryan Martin at ryan.martin@indystar.com or by phone, Signal or WhatsApp at 317-500-4897. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter: @ryanmartin.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Season for Sharing: Grassroot Projects helps immigrant families