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Small Community With a Big Heart Aims to Change the World!

Malyalee Association of Memphis"Our shelves have been running bare the past few months. More people are lining up for food than we have seen in a long time. We need all the help we can get". Late in October 2011, a group of around twenty people had their eyes focused on Paula for the second time in 2011 as she spoke to them during their orientation at the Midsouth Food Bank. This crew of volunteers ranged in age from 8 to 70 and they had one thing in common: they belonged to a community that is determined to make a difference in this adopted home of theirs. The Malayalee Association of Memphis brings together people who trace their roots to the southern state of Kerala. What began as a small group of families a decade ago is now about seventy strong. They believe that while one person can make a difference, having everyone working together can change the world.

When you are far away from home, coming together to celebrate tradition, is an instinctual act. One that is common to many regional organizations in foreign lands. The elders loved the camaraderie and the young ones were subtly instructed about their roots and their  heritage. Every year, the families come together during major festivals like Onam, Vishu and Christmas and display their creativity and make memories over delicious lip-smacking home cooked food. But somewhere along the line, a need was felt to do more than just celebrate what bound them together. The desire to give back to the local community as a collective gained traction and manifested itself in the formal establishment of the Malayalee Association of Memphis (MAM).

The mission of the organization states that the primary focus is to provide opportunities for its members to do charity and volunteering work. Such a goal can be daunting given the myriad of volunteering opportunities out there and the individual desire to serve in a specific area. But MAM seems to have found the fine balance that brings most of its members together to help those in need. Many of its activities are focused towards the hungry, the elderly and activities that have significant instructional value to its youngest members.

On a cold and blustery morning in April this year, they showed up at the Mid-South Hot Wings Festival trying to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House of Charities. With the only Indian presence at the festival, they delighted the palates of the foodies with the spicy kick in their wings. During this years Holiday Bakes the kids put on their culinary hats to make Pumpkin and fruit cakes. The proceeds from the sales were used to buy gifts for birthday bags for MIFA. Not only did they learn the intricacies involved in baking, they were given the responsibility of deciding what gifts to buy and practice their packing skills. Earlier that year, they had assembled together to attend the MIFA Martin Luther King day celebrations where the surprise chief guest was the Governor of Tennessee the Hon. Mr. Bill Haslam. Later that year, the kids had a rollicking time washing cars while raising funds for the organization. A chemistry is being developed among the kids that will encourage them to take on bigger projects in the future.

Malyalee Association of MemphisThe good people of MAM have also been gathering at walks and raising funds to show support for the Juvenile Diabetes Reserach Foundation the last couple of years. The incidence of Juvenile Diabetes is rising sharply all over the world and supporting JDRF's initiative emphasizes the responsibility that children and adults need to take towards eating healthy and exercising. It is their hope that as this movement gains support, the beast will have been vanquished.

It is logical that groups of people working well together can effect a great impact within a community than individuals or organizations with internal discord. It is to this end, to grow and strengthen the kinsman-ship amongst its members that MAM organizes events like the community gardening project. For a period of four to five months, men, women and children worked to build a garden. They tilled, fertilized, planted, watered and harvested various crops. The hard work paid off with almost seven hundred pounds of harvest that was distributed within the community. The youth also gained valuable firsthand experience in agriculture. But more than anything, they reminisce about their agricultural gests every time they meet. Memories built to last a lifetime.

Parents were rewarded for their year round efforts in volunteering during Valentines day when MAM hosted a babysitting night where the kids dined, played and created crafts together. Older kids were instructed in the nuances of child care while mom and dad shared an evening out together. MAM believes that a close knit family begins with a strong bond of love between parents. At MAM's events, It is not unusual to see parents performing together in cultural activities. This is raised to lofty levels during India Fest when almost everyone gets involved in promoting the vision of India Fest. To promote India's culture and showcase its traditions. Would it surprise you then that the Malayalees of Memphis have been putting on the best performances at India Fest for many years in a row? The have raised the bar in creative showmanship through sheer effort, the desire to do their best and the oneness that makes it all possible.

It would behoove organizations to follow a model similar to MAM's in making a difference within the community that they live in. To build a strong bond within the organization before they head out to help others. Molding children to be better citizens of tomorrow by showing great enthusiasm in caring for others. And in the process, integrating themselves into the fabric of this nation. A place they now call home.