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Dr. Sandhoo Serves Up Authentic Indian Food at the Good News Rescue Mission

06/24/2015 04:00PM ● By Sue Ralston

A Feast of Love

July 2015
By Sue Ralston
Photos: Betsy Erickson

Twice a year, in July and December, hungry folks who show up at Redding’s Good News Rescue Mission have the privilege of enjoying a made-from-scratch Indian meal. Dr. Gurpreet Sandhoo, a Sikh, has been providing the lunch since she moved to Redding in 2001 to share with those less fortunate, without regard to the recipients’ beliefs.

“We’re not feeding Christians or Jews or Hindus. We’re feeding the homeless and the hungry. Hunger knows no religion.”

Sandhoo, a solo practitioner of internal medicine at Excellence in Healthcare in Redding, prepares the lunch in July to honor her late son. In December, the meal is in honor of her late father. “But we’re thinking of moving it to January. Everyone remembers the homeless and the hungry in December,” she says.

The Indian meal is not just an exotic alternative to the food the Mission usually serves. “We try to keep it mostly healthy, made from scratch, using lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. We do chicken, beef, rice, a chickpea dish, naan, yogurt salad.” Although the lunch is always made from fresh and wholesome ingredients, the dessert table allows for some indulgence. “Half of the dessert table is fresh fruit, and the other half is cakes and rice pudding. We also provide milk, which is very popular.”

Often, when the smell of Basmati rice – scented with cardamom, cloves and coriander – begins to waft out from the Mission’s kitchen, residents and others nearby will line up in anticipation, swelling the size of the crowd. “We often see people who are already here texting people they know to come and join us,” Sandhoo says.

Sandhoo and her helpers feed an estimated 250 to 300 people at a time. No undertaking this big, she acknowledges, could be done without help. She takes care of the cost herself, but has a cadre of volunteers – usually about 30 to 40 friends, patients and colleagues – who help shop, organize and cook at the Mission with her. Dr. Clarence Trausch has been involved for about 10 years and is experienced enough that he usually helps organize the other volunteers. “A lot of different people show up to help. They’ll peel the onions, clean the pots and pans. It’s a really big job, but I like to get my hands in it.” He often gives a non-denominational, inspirational message at the beginning of the meal.

When Sandhoo arrived in the United States from India, she didn’t know how to cook. “I couldn’t even boil water,” she laughs. But having three children who needed to be fed forced to her to learn. “I was a biochemist before I was a medical doctor, so I enjoyed doing a lot of experimenting with various cuisines.”

She tried offering more variety at the Mission a couple of times – Thai food, or breakfast for lunch – but the real demand was for her Indian food. “It’s a feast and they love it,” says Sandhoo. Jamie Hale, a long-time volunteer and a medical social worker, looks forward to being involved with the meals. “I like the creative process, from putting the ingredients together to serving up a unique Indian meal for that many people,” she says. “It’s really gratifying when so many people come back for seconds and smile and express their appreciation.”

Janet Shields, the Mission’s executive assistant and volunteer coordinator, always looks forward to seeing the group and its dedicated volunteers. “They work for days getting things ready and they do a fantastic job. And she is such a kind person,” says Shields. Sandhoo sums it up: “I do believe in sharing, and this brings so many people together to share a meal. We all get a lot in return.”