Feeding our Fellow Men during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Seattle, WA
Seattle has one of the largest homeless populations in the U.S. For the past few years, Sai volunteers have been providing food to the homeless in downtown Seattle at the Union Gospel Men’s Shelter, which serves about 100 residents and 250 guests daily. Unfortunately, with the advent of the pandemic, the shelter had to stop serving their guests in April 2020. The Sri Sathya Sai Baba Centers of Sammamish and Lake Washington decided to step in to distribute food to the homeless on the weekends. The challenges they faced were (i) how to sustain the feeding program for about 150 people two days a week without having access to any industrial-grade kitchen and (ii) how to carry out contactless distribution of meals.
When the centers approached their membership, many families eagerly stepped forward to volunteer. Approximately three to four families signed up each week, to prepare pasta, vegetable rice, and veggie or peanut-butter sandwiches. COVID-19 social distancing and contactless requirements were met by packing the food in ready-to-go meal boxes which were then placed in several large bags.
The volunteers identified parks in the vicinity of the men’s shelter where many of the homeless congregate. On the day of the service, Sai volunteers placed the large bags at designated locations in the parks, so that the homeless guests could pick out a meal box each from the bags . Currently, the volunteers regularly provide packed meals to the homeless in the following parks: City Hall Park, Occidental Square, UPS Waterfall Garden Park, and Pioneer Square Park.
Besides food, hygiene kits, comprising items such as masks, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, tooth brushes, tooth paste, combs, liquid soap, and dry shampoo, have also been distributed. The kits also contain greeting cards with encouraging messages prepared by Group 1 Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) children, aged 6 to 9 years.
With God’s blessing and the continued support of the Sai Center members, the project has continued every weekend for the past 6 months. It has provided an opportunity for Sai Centers to collaborate on a worthy cause and for SSE students to participate regularly in service. Over time, volunteers began to realize that their homeless guests would be waiting eagerly for the meals, and that they were making a personal connection with them. In one instance, a volunteer who was in his car, waiting at a traffic signal, observed a homeless person wave from afar and drove forward towards him. While handing over food, the volunteer inquired how the homeless person knew to wave at his car. To the volunteer’s surprise, the food recipient responded, “I know your car. You always carry food to serve”.
There were also special incidents during which the volunteers felt the presence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. For example, while food was being served one day, a homeless person came forward and said “I know Sathya Sai Baba and He is here”. When asked, the homeless man repeated those exact words, to the surprise of the volunteers. Within minutes, the person disappeared in the crowd and could not be found. Volunteers treasure these divine signs that inspire them to continue serving their fellow men during such a critical time, knowing they are making a difference and that their efforts have been truly blessed.