Before the coronavirus pandemic, Vicki Mayo went almost every weekend to one of Phoenix’s gurdwaras, a Sikh temple where she prayed and helped cook for langar, the community kitchen that serves free food.

She’s volunteered at different gurdwaras in the Valley and the kitchen scene is almost always the same, she described: Aunties chattering in Punjabi and drinking hot chai, the clinking sound of stainless steel plates and cutlery, the smell of masala and fresh roti flatbread and daal intermingling in the air.

“You always smell the frying too — that’s the best, a batch of fresh pakora about to come out… you smell these things, you hear the noise and it’s almost meditative for me,” Mayo said.

Mayo, who grew up in the Sikh faith, said langar is about more than just free food, it’s an act of service that invites anyone in the community to come as they are, regardless of whether they’re Sikh.

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