Members of the Sikh faith are inviting the 188,000 evacuees who were forced to leave their homes because of the damaged Oroville Dam emergency spillway to come to their temples for a nice vegetarian meal and a rest on the floor of their prayer halls.
Yuba City and Sacramento — both about an hour's drive from Oroville — are central migration spots for Sikhs in California, most of whom originally hailed from Punjab, India.
Several temples in the surrounding Northern California area, including Sacramento, Roseville, Turlock and Tracy also publicly invited anyone in need to come to their houses of worship. All together, community estimates put the Sikh population at about 70,000 in the greater Sacramento area. And at the peak of the dam crisis on Sunday evening, two temples say they housed about 350 people fleeing from the possibility of a spillway break.
Inderjit Singh of the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh temple in West Sacramento said about 250 people, both Indian and American, came for shelter on Sunday. Many slept in the hallways and on the carpeted floor. By Tuesday morning, he said, about 150 or so remained. Members wrote Valentine's Day cards for evacuees and were passing them out. Some read, "I hope you return home safely."
In Rio Linda, about an hour's drive away from the dam, temple secretary Raj Kumar Sood said about 100 people had slept over, many in the prayer hall. Some temple leaders had offered their homes as well.
In Stockton, temple doors were also open.
“We’re well prepared, all gurdwaras (Sikh Temple) are indeed open, we have meals and temporary shelter for needy,” the Stockton Gurdwara wrote Twitter and Facebook. Gurdwara means "door to the guru" or "House of God."
And in Roseville, Police Lt. Merve Screeton stopped by a gurdwara there to roll dough with a Sikh woman cooking for Oroville evacuees. His boss, Police Chief Daniel Hahn tweeted: "The Temple has stepped up 2serve those in need." Hahn said Tuesday in an interview that at one point during the day about 40 people had shown up to eat. "They're a great partner," Hahn said.
Thought it's more than a two-hour drive away from the crisis, Harsimran Singh, vice president of the Sikh temple in Turlock, said he didn't realize what a phenomenal response he'd get by just tweeting out an open invitation to shelter evacuees.
Though only a few Sikh families stopped by, his tweet has been retweeted about 2,500 times by Tuesday morning. He also called emergency service directors in Butte, Yuba and Sutter counties, offering rides and food to anyone in need.
A central tenant of Sikhism is “Vand Chhakna,” or share what one has with others. Sikh temples host langars, or community kitchens, to regularly feed members and anyone in need.
"It's just hardwired into us and our religion," Singh said. "Anytime someone needs help, we need to be there."