Balwinder Singh found out that people in Lodi and other areas don't understand the Sikh faith, practiced in east India.
"People look at Sikhs as not to be trusted because we have beards and turbans," Singh said.
So leaders at Lodi's Deshmesh Darbar Sikh Temple decided to reach out into the community and introduce themselves and their culture. They spoke at a Lodi Unified School District board meeting and at local high schools in November.
It was in commemoration of the California Legislature proclaiming November to be Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month.
And to take it a step further, some 19 people from the Lodi temple, seven of them high school students, served homemade Indian food such as samosa and beans at the Lodi Salvation Army, and donated 50 blankets. About 135 homeless and low-income people ate Christmas Eve dinner at the Salvation Army, Singh said.
"I felt proud, very glad I was given this opportunity," said Paramveer Mehrok, a Tokay High freshman who brought food and blankets. "You should always be thankful for what you have, because other people may not have what you have. That's what Christmas is all about."
And Tokay High sophomore Manjot Sidhu said the simple act of saying Merry Christmas to the homeless and other low-income people changed their expressions from sad to happy.
"It warms the heart when they smile," Sidhu said.
Singh said the temple wants to become involved in community service. The idea to visit the Salvation Army was originally to make it an annual event, but Singh said they saw the acute need for helping the needy more often. So they'll show up more often at the Salvation Army.
"Love of mankind — that is the whole essence of our religion," he said.
During Friday's visit, Singh said he wasn't sure if the people eating Christmas Eve dinner at the Salvation Army would like the food they brought, since they're used to American fare.
"We weren't sure if they'd like Indian food, but they did," Singh said.
In addition to visiting the Salvation Army, the Deshmesh Darbar Temple hosted a three-day observance from Friday through Sunday to honor four sons of the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh Ji, who gave up their lives several centuries ago for the Sikh faith.
Participants took turns at the temple reading aloud from the Sikhs' holy book, called Guru Granth Sehib. It took about 48 hours to read the entire book.
The temple, at the northeast corner of Armstrong Road and West Lane, was packed with people, most of whom were seated on a red-carpeted floor. They took their shoes off and covered their heads with turbans out of respect for God.
Participants sang hymns and discussed the history of the Sikh faith. Most of it was in Punjabi, which is spoken in India, though part of the program was in English.
Temple members also served plenty of homemade food for anyone who showed up. Singh said that everyone in the community, regardless of race and religion, is welcome to eat some Indian food at the temple free of charge.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.