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Portland volunteers send relief to India during deadly COVID surge

Oregonians with connections to India hope others join relief efforts, as India sees record surge of more than 400,000 COVID cases in a day.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Volunteers in the Pacific Northwest are joining international relief efforts as India faces a catastrophic surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Ajay Vangapaty and Lokesh Muddagowda are both volunteers with Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and the Portland chapter of Sewa International USA, faith-based organizations focused on community service.

They have strong connections with India.

"Our mother country is always very dear to us," Muddagowda said.

Both men are watching a crisis play out in that motherland, with India reporting about 400,000 COVID cases and 3,600 related deaths in a 24-hour span this past weekend.

RELATED: India 1st to pass 400,000 COVID cases in single day

"It's like dominos are falling essentially, but instead of chips, they're people," Vangapaty said. "So we gotta put our heads down and try to save as many lives as possible."

Sewa International USA launched a campaign, raising millions of dollars toward relief.

It is sending medical supplies, desperately needed oxygen for overcrowded Indian hospitals, and volunteers to help with sanitation and education.

Support is also going to the growing number of Indian children who have lost parents to COVID-19.

"Some of them are so young, they don't even understand what's happened," Vangapaty  said. "As a father of a three-year-old, I can't even imagine...my kid in that sort of situation."

Preventing the spread of COVID in India is challenging, given the country's large population.

"Tons of cities that look like New York," Vangapaty described. "Trying to vaccinate 1.5 billion people."

In comparison, the U.S. has a population of just under 330 million.

Sewa International USA's service extends beyond India. Volunteers said the need is great in Oregon, too.

"And people are responding," Muddagowda said.

Volunteers have joined local vaccination clinics and food delivery programs to help vulnerable and hard-to-reach members of their community.

With COVID cases surging in both the Pacific Northwest and India, they hope neighbors choose to donate money or time to help in relief efforts.

"This is a human crisis. It affects all of us," Vangapaty said.

People interested in volunteering or providing help can contact portland@sewausa.org or pdxsewausa@gmail.com.

RELATED: US to restrict travel from India over COVID starting Tuesday