OCEANSIDE — After Oceanside business owner Kyle Tortora heard about how impoverished families in South India were struggling through the country’s most recent COVID-19 lockdown this spring, he immediately started fundraising efforts to donate thousands of bags of rice to hungry families.
It was 21 years ago when he first started his business, Lotus Sculpture, by collecting Hindu and Buddha sculptures to sell all around the world on his website (www.lotussculpture.com). Through his travels and his work, Tortora has made many connections with artists throughout India over the last two decades.
“Some of them are my best friends,” Tortora said.
Tortora found out from his friends in India about how dire the COVID-19 situation was there during a massive surge in positive cases throughout April and May.
“It’s much worse than the news,” Tortora said according to his friends.
Tortora then connected with his good friend Balan in South India, who began visiting different villages to see what kind of state they were in and what they needed. According to his findings, the situation was bad: people were starving.
“People living there literally day by day,” Tortora said. “They go to work in the fields, collect their 150 rupees and spend it on cooking oil, food or whatever they need for that day or week, but with the lockdown, they can’t do anything.”
Together, Tortora and Balan planned to fundraise to deliver bags of rice to families in need in South India.
Tortora set up a page on his website where people could donate to the cause. In a month’s time, Tortora and Balan raised $57,000, of which Tortora donated more than $8,000 of his own money.
The two donated 4,180 25-kilogram bags of rice — more than 100,000 kilograms of rice. The rice made it to about 20 different villages into the hands of 4,000 families, one 25-kilogram bag per family.
According to Tortora, that’s enough rice to last them several weeks.
To distribute the bags of rice, Balan traveled to the different villages and ask leaders for a list of names of the most impoverished people living there. Then, he would bring in the rice and hand them the bags.
“These people were really hungry and needed it,” Tortora said.
His website also features a blog where Tortora documents the donation efforts, which have also been reported on by Indian news outlets in the region there. For now, he has stopped his fundraising as lockdown has lifted and allowed families to start going about their typical daily activities once more.
Tortora has nearly $7,000 left from the fundraising effort that he plans to use for a future project to directly help individuals and families in India. He said for Balan, the story of one pregnant woman in need stuck out to him.
“She’s living outside of the house that family is in because she doesn’t have a husband,” Tortora explained, adding that he and Balan plan on building a house for her with some of the money.
For Tortora, the need to help these starving families pulled at his heartstrings and motivated his response.
“I had to do something,” he said. “These people are hungry and need help… let’s not let these people starve.”