AAHOA Lifetime Member Prakash Saraf knows a thing or two about caring. He works hard to provide exceptional customer service and guest experiences to travelers staying at his hotel in Baltimore. But when he’s not busy overseeing hotel operations, Saraf dedicates a huge part of his time to serving his community.
FRIENDS OF SPARSH OPENS TO COMBAT HOMELESSNESS
As founder and president of Friends of Sparsh, a nonprofit organization serving the homeless, Saraf makes essential items like food, clothing, personal hygiene items, transportation, and shelter available to people living on the streets.
Saraf’s passion for combating homelessness in Baltimore led him to start Friends of Sparsh in 2018, alongside his son, Neev. The charity created an organized and structured system to channel more help and resources to many more individuals.
“About 13 years ago, I started volunteering at Elizabeth House, a local nonprofit food pantry and soup kitchen, where I learned more about people living on the streets,” Saraf said. “I realized there are people who are homeless living in this country. They don’t have a place to go. That opened my eyes, and I felt called to give back. So, that’s how I embarked on this journey to create hope for homeless people and families.”
THE CURRENT IMPACT
Today, Friends of Sparsh provides meals to local shelters, sponsors food banks, and helps transitional families who move on to permanent housing with household items and furniture. Since the charity started nearly four years ago, it has provided about 424,000 meals to the homeless community, including meals in partnership with other shelters.
Amid a two-year pandemic, Friends of Sparsh continued to fight homelessness and hunger.
“When the pandemic started, many volunteers did not feel comfortable leaving their houses. So, for two years, I picked up the hot meals from the volunteers’ homes, then drove 40 miles to 60 miles to drop off the food at different shelters in the Baltimore area every day.” Saraf added.
Saraf also knows the homeless residents face additional challenges during the Maryland winter season. Through Friends of Sparsh, last year Saraf and his team gave out about 200 tents, blankets, and sleeping bags, in addition to blankets, socks, gloves, and bus passes to help individuals in need stay comfortable and warm during the cold nights.
In two to three years, Saraf plans to open a food truck so he can travel from shelter to shelter, cooking and handing out free hot meals.
Serving the community has created a more profound sense of empathy. Saraf shares that we can be so quick to label a person living on the streets as lazy and not wanting to work. But often, individuals face difficult circumstances and need someone to show nonjudgmental care.
“We all make mistakes. As hotel owners, we make business mistakes, but then we get support from our family and organizations like AAHOA, and we bounce back. Friends of Sparsh restores hope to those not as fortunate in Baltimore,” Saraf described.
Saraf has been recognized for his efforts to drive real change in people’s lives. In 2019, he received the Mayor Office Award for Outstanding Community Service from former Baltimore Mayor Jack Young. Earlier this summer, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland’s Legislative Assembly, and Baltimore County recognized Saraf for his decade-long service.
Saraf lives out the true meaning of hospitality. That’s why in 2020, AAHOA honored Saraf with the “Outreach Award for Philanthropy.” The association believes we all can make the communities where we do business better and stronger.
For more information, visit friendsofsparsh.org.