By Paul Gores of the Journal Sentinel May 3, 2015
Pewaukee — The Hindu Temple of Wisconsin was a mixture of heartbreak and hope on Sunday.
Among the most brokenhearted was Nepal native Mithu Shrestha, a Milwaukee-area nurse, who lost a cousin in the horrific April 25 earthquake in her home country.
On Sunday, Shrestha was part of a group of local Nepalese serving up their country’s food at the temple during a brunch to raise money for earthquake victims.
“It’s very hard,” she said. “The people are just devastated over there.”
The day’s hope was generated by the response to the fundraising event: Turnout far exceeded expectations. Shortly after noon, the parking lot of the temple was packed with cars carrying visitors ready to pay $6 each for a Nepalese meal and, in some cases, to make donations beyond that. The grounds were so full that vehicles had to park across the road in the Costco Wholesale parking lot or at nearby Shepherd of the Hills Church.
The temple had anticipated about 400 people showing up, but organizers figured that it would end up being more like 700.
“It’s a wonderful turnout,” said Venkat Kodali, past president of the temple and chairman of its Religious Committee. “India is always connected to Nepal – by boundary, by religion, by culture. And now, today, let us all be Nepalese.”
The death count from the earthquake has topped 7,000, and the need for shelter, food and medicine is immense. The Pewaukee fundraiser’s goal was to put at least a dent in that massive need. Other donations continue to come in as well.
“We hope that by the end of the week, we’ll have at least $10,000 to $15,000 collected,” temple President Yogesh Khatri said.
Tilak KC is president of Milwaukee Nepali Pariwar, a nonprofit group that aims to improve the physical, social, emotional and economic well-being of Nepali living in the Milwaukee area. He said local Nepalese were grateful that the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin so quickly opened its doors to help, but the Nepalese are hurting.
“All the people at this temple are really, really having heartbreaking feelings right now,” KC said.
Shrestha said she had learned of the death of a 30-year-old female cousin in the earthquake. The roof of the woman’s house collapsed and she could not be pulled from the rubble until the next day.
“When they are trying to dig her out the next day, she was already gone. She died,” Shrestha said.
She said another relative, a man related by marriage to her mother, was at a temple when the earthquake occurred, and he, too, was killed.
Her mother, Shrestha said, lost her home in the earthquake and has had to live in a tent.
Kodali started the day with a prayer meeting for the victims of the tragedy 7,500 miles away — and for those who love them.
“We prayed basically for the well-being of the people that are injured, and moral strength for the people that have lost someone close, family members,” Kodali said. “And also, God just needs to bless the country right now. The country is in need, and there are a lot of people who are in trouble. They all need to somehow get up and get back to normal lives.”
Lakshmi Bharadwaj, a retired University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor who is vice president of the temple board, called the big turnout “an expression of the American spirit for volunteering” in times of crisis. Such spirit is one of America’s great gifts to the world, he said.
“Now the whole community literally has gotten together,” he said. “Not only the Nepalese community, but the whole Indian and Nepalese communities together.”
Hindu temple member Nagaveni Reddy said her heart “just broke” when she first heard the news about the earthquake.
“Anything we can do from this far to help, we would love to do that,” she said.