When Bharati Kemraj heard that the 49th Precinct was collecting flip-flops to ship to displaced typhoon victims in the Philippines, she immediately knew who to call.
Kemraj contacted her local Vishnu Mandir Hindu Temple in Parkchester.
Within a day, it had collected over 500 pairs of footwear to be distributed overseas in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, the tropical storm that hit Southeast Asia on Nov. 8 and has since killed over 5,000 and left thousands more homeless.
Police Officer Jay Sturdivant, a community affairs officer at the Four-Nine, came up with the idea for a flip-flop drive after reading a report which suggested that many of the displaced Filipinos were braving dangerous terrain without proper shoes.
Precinct commander, Deputy Inspector Lorenzo “Andy” Johnson, then got the word out at the Community Board 11 meeting on Nov. 21. The next morning, Kemraj called him to say that her temple, along with the Bharati Dance Academy, had already rallied together to produce 500 pairs of footwear.
“I did not expect that it would be such a large amount within the day,” Johnson said.
The Hindu experience
Johnson and Officer Sturdivant stopped by the temple Sunday, Nov. 24 to pick up the footwear.
Johnson has broken up street gangs, busted drug dealers and more over a 25-year career. But he had never entered a Hindu Temple. He said he ended up staying for an hour, listening to Pandit Vishnu Sukul deliver his Sunday morning lecture.
“I’m used to Catholic masses, but this was very colorful and had more interaction,” Johnson said. “I recommend it. I don’t plan on it being the last time I ever go.”
The Temple, which has been in Parkchester for over 17 years, jumped at the chance to help the displaced Filipinos.
“Whenever there is a disaster, our people join together in lending a helping hand,” Sukul said.
Temple patrons at the Sunday service were thrilled to see the community rallying around the flip-flop drive.
“Seeing this sight of giving and receiving shows that our community is a strong bridge,” said Ganesh Basil, a longtime Temple member. “It does not matter where we are from or where we lend assistance, it is all for a greater cause and it shows service above self.”
The Four-Nine’s flip-flop drive remains open, and Bronxites are encouraged to continue to contact the precinct or drop off more flip-flops or footwear.
“This little token of giving someone footwear is a gesture for recovery to those affected by the storm,” Kemraj said. “We are grateful for the work the NYPD is doing.”