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Queens Sikhs need to feed

Some volunteers arrived as early as 4 a.m. to start preparing foods like nan bread for the Sikh Day Parade. Photo by Steve Mosco
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Cooking for 50,000 people takes time — and a lot of volunteers.

The city’s Sikh community banded together Friday to prepare free meals to feed the throngs of revelers at the 25th annual Sikh Day Parade. In the 24 hours preceding the parade, volunteers started cooking at 4 a.m. at the Sikh Cultural Society of Richmond Hill, one of many sites where dishes were being made.

“This same thing is happening in many other Sikh communities in the city,” said Lakhwinder Singh, manager at the Sikh Cultural Society. “We come together to show the city who we are because we feel there is a lot of confusion. We are not Muslim or Hindu — we are Sikh and we want to introduce ourselves.”

Volunteers worked at different stations at the center, at 95-30 118th St., preparing nan breads, rice, curries and many other dishes for the parade Saturday at Manhattan’s Madison Square Park.

Groups of Sikh women rolled the nan, then headed off to the grill station, where the breads were finished over heat. Large vats of curried vegetables stood simmering in a row as another set of volunteers took turns stirring the aromatic delicacies. Even bigger pots of rice cooked in the corner, as the refrigerator door constantly swung open with more ingredients hauled out.

Jukulwinder Singh, a volunteer from Richmond Hill, started cooking early and continued on a rotating basis with other volunteers who trickled in throughout the day.

“I love to cook, I’ve never cooked for 50,000 or 60,000 people. It’s a little bit of a different experience for me,” said Singh, as he chopped bushels of leafy greens. “I’m here to have fun and to show who Sikhs are. And I will try not to cut myself.”

The Sikh Day Parade coincides with Vaisakhi Day, commemorating the first baptism ceremony performed by Guru Gobind Singh. On the first Vaisakhi Day in 1699, Gobind Singh created the Panj Pyare, a team of five Sikhs, to administer initiation rites. The guru was the first to receive the rites and tens of thousands of Sikhs followed his example.

Harpreet Singh Toor, chairman of the cultural society, said the celebration is unique because it gives each person the chance to celebrate his or her history while also introducing others to Sikh culture.

“Every year since 1699 we celebrate the Vaisakhi. It is a very rich history,” Singh Toor said. “It is important for us as a people to celebrate our origins and also to welcome in other communities to ask questions, learn about our history and also eat some food prepared by our community.”

After finishing a batch of greens at his station with a final few chops, Jukulwinder Singh smiled and rubbed his forehead. Just then another volunteer placed a new container of vegetables on the chopping block. Without hesitating, Jukulwinder dug in and began slicing the new batch.

“I’m not tired because I’m doing this for my community,” he said. “It’s easy to work hard when it’s for a good cause.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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