Obaid Kadwani is making a difference in lives across America.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: A well-known Indian American actor, model and television host, Obaid Kadwani, has been a man of many different trades for years now. In addition to his pursuits in the entertainment industry, he is also an established entrepreneur and, more recently, a selfless philanthropist.
Born in Mumbai but raised in New York City, Kadwani began his first business when he was just a student at New York University. He eventually left school to devote more time to the business, which he used as a way to finance himself while he tried to make a name for himself as an actor. Today, he is well-known throughout the New York City metropolitan area as the host of various south Asian-American television programs.
Kadwani is also behind a charity organization called A Slice of Hope, which works with homeless shelters in various metropolitan areas to throw pizza parties with live music for people in low-income situations. The charity is very close to Kadwani, who spoke with The American Bazaar to explain how A Slice of Hope began, what it does, and what he hopes to accomplish with the organization.
“I grew up in the Bronx, and as first-generation immigrants, you come to a new country really with no financial reserves,” explains Kadwani when asked about how A Slice of Hope first came about. “If my father lost his job or if there was an illness in the family, there would have been serious financial repercussions for us, and I saw this happen to people who I knew personally. These stresses can pile up on a person to the point where they mentally shut down, and that obviously makes things worse – anger, abuse, bullying, [etc.].”
Kadwani saw how poverty affected perfectly good people in inner cities, and wanted to help alleviate the financial and social burdens that these families are faced with by throwing them pizza parties in homeless shelters.
“You hear the term ‘pizza party’ and you’re already thinking of a good time, good food, it’s an atmosphere that makes people happy and takes them away from their troubles,” says Kadwani, who also wanted to have live music playing at the parties to really lift people’s spirits.
The idea was met with widespread skepticism at first.
“We wanted to take these places, which are usually quite somber places, and turn them into a party atmosphere, which is something that had really never been done before,” says Kadwani. “I approached a homeless shelter to ask if they would be interested, and they said to me ‘Are you nuts? These people can barely eat and you want to throw them a party?’ And I said ‘Yeah!’”
Eventually, Kadwani was able to convince one shelter to just try the idea once. Kadwani – along with his sister, Qurrat Ann Kadwani and their non-profit called eyeBLINK Entertainment – put the word out through his professional and personal networks to bring people out in droves to this pizza party.
The event was a huge success, raising enough money that Kadwani could throw five more parties in five other shelters throughout New York City.
“That first year , our entire budget was $1,413,” recalls Kadwani, an incredibly low sum for a venture like this.
But as more pizza parties began happening and more lives were being touched, Kadwani’s efforts became so well-known that even Pizza Hut got involved.
“Pizza Hut came along and said [that they] would match us, pizza for pizza, which allowed us to do a lot more with our money,” said Kadwani.
But Kadwani says that as much as he talks about the work that goes into throwing the parties and as much as he talks about the parties themselves, nothing beats how magical the experience of an actual A Slice of Hope pizza party actually is.
“Going to one of these [pizza parties], you realize how much just one dollar does,” he says. “We tell all our donors and sponsors that one dollar supports pizza and music for one person, and if you look at the people who are at these events, eating the pizza and listening to the live musicians, you see how much of a difference it makes in their lives. It lets them forget their troubles and it just completely changes their outlooks [on life].”
Kadwani shares an especially touching story, in which a woman came to a pizza party but did not eat. Kadwani wanted to find out why, and was told by the event’s photographer that the woman wasn’t eating because her husband was at home, bed-ridden with an illness that prevented him from attending the event in person. The woman wanted to know if she could just take the slices delegated for her back home to him, rather than eat them there herself, because “he needs the slices more than I do.”
“I told her this is a pizza party, please eat however much you want and take however much you want back with you,” says Kadwani. “These are the kinds of stories you hear at these events, but these are the stories that really make it all worthwhile.
Today, just six years after that first pizza party, A Slice for Hope is in 25 different cities spread across the country. They have reached more than 250,000 people, including homeless citizens and children at risk of being thrown into juvenile detention centers. The organization throws an annual event every June at each of their homeless shelters, a massive coordination effort that, Kadwani says, is always worth it.
“I began this to help people,” says Kadwani, “and what’s really moving for me is that I have met so many wonderful people through this that it re-affirms my belief in humanity, and it continues to be a real source of strength for me. And I want to share those feelings with as many people as possible.”
Kadwani says he plans to expand A Slice of Hope into cities across all 50 states, so that even more Americans struck by financial and societal misfortunate can have at least some happiness and joy in their lives.
It looks like the secret to happiness wasn’t money and fame, just pizza and music – who knew?
[All photos courtesy of Obaid Kadwani and A Slice of Hope.]
To contact the author, email to firstname.lastname@example.org