Oceanside Business Helps Feed Poor Villages In India
Kyle Tortora, the owner of Lotus Sculpture in Oceanside, works closely with sculpture artisans in India.
All of the pieces at the Buddhist and Hindu sculpture retail and wholesale store are carefully crafted.
“Each one is handmade, one of a kind. Artists spend five months on this one statue. Their love and their passion and their belief system and Hinduism comes out in it,” said Tortora.
He traveled throughout Southeast Asia and India, where he found the inspiration for his store.
“This statue of Shiva and Nataraja is what influenced me to start Lotus Sculpture,” he said. “I’m going to find out where these are made, I’m gonna buy them, ship them back home, and build a website.”
For 21 years, Tortora has been meeting Indian artisans and purchasing their sculptures to sell worldwide.
Tortora returned from a buying trip in India last January, when the coronavirus pandemic hit and shut everything down. But he said his business actually thrived.
“We saw the opposite effect. People were staying at home, worried about their immediate surroundings, re-doing their gardens and so demand for our product went sky high,” said Tortora.
While business for Tortora flourished, his artisans in India were seeing different things.
“What they earn in the morning, they use at night to feed their family. So when you initiate a full lock down on a country, these people who are farmers, they can't go out and farm their land, they can't feed their family,” he said.
One of Tortora’s artisans, Balan, traveled to villages to see the impact COVID-19 was leaving on the poorest people of India. What did Balan find?
“One family had a kid with cerebral palsy and another family had two boys with down syndrome," Tortora said. "(Balan) went into their kitchen and basically they (only) had water in their kitchen. That right there said ‘this is a problem.’ People are hungry.”
Balan and Tortora agreed that they needed to do something and got to work.
Their plan was to distribute 25 kilogram sacks of rice to poor families.
“The poorest of the poor, the people who are really hungry and needed it,” said Tortora.
Balan started a list of people in need in small villages in India. Tortora began asking his customers for donations.
“Within the first hour we raised $8,000. I was completely blown away at the generosity of my customers. India, I think, was on a lot of people’s mind, and they wanted to help, but they didn't know how. So I gave them an avenue to do that,” he said.
Tortora raised $57,244. Of that, $48,906 were donated by customers and $8338 were donated by Lotus Sculpture.
The donations paid for 4180 sacks of rice that Balan distributed throughout 63 villages.
Balan described his experience distributing the rice.
“One woman came with her daughter. She cried. She couldn’t eat for two or three days. When I gave her one bag of rice ... it's difficult here ... she says 'I feel like I’m going to die but now it's ok,'” said Balan.
Balan said there is still a lockdown in Mumbai where they are dealing with the COVID-19 delta variant. Tortora said this project brought more needs in India to light and plans on doing more.
“We’re going to target people, individuals, families, and do one good thing a month. I think that's our goal,” said Tortora.