Lessons in Love: Preble Street Kitchen Cleaning

The Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, Maine, provides meals to over 600 homeless people, three times daily, 365 days a year. The soup kitchen operates 12 hours daily, solely on the efforts of volunteer groups. Despite the best efforts of the volunteers to clean up after each meal, the kitchen does require an intense deep-cleaning periodically. The management was hesitant to ask anyone to do this seemingly menial and laborious task. Our Sathya Sai Baba Center had been involved in donating breakfast items since 2003, and we had prayed for more opportunities to serve. Through divine grace, our prayers were answered and we were approached to help with the kitchen cleaning! The first clean-up and pantry organizing was held in 2006, and we have continued deep-cleaning the kitchen every three months till today.

Our members for this project usually include six to eight adults, three young adults, and between two and four Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) children. We arrive at about 2 pm, start with a prayer, and then launch into our individual tasks. Because this is such a busy kitchen, we are on a tight schedule and have only about 90 minutes to get the place thoroughly cleaned before the next set of volunteers arrive at 3.45 pm to prepare dinner. So, we are very aware of the need to be punctual and efficient.

Effects of practicing Sai Baba’s message: spiritual cleansing and growth

Sai Baba has reminded us several times that God is the Doer and we are really serving ourselves. We benefit in many ways, not the least of which is our own inner spiritual cleansing. As one Sai devotee remarked, “Personally, it is like a spiritual self-cleansing activity, where I can get rid of my own ego and selfishness and fill my heart with humility, love, and selflessness.”

Another devotee feels that this service activity benefits her spiritually more than anything because she can forget all her worldly worries for the time being, while her heart fills with love and compassion for the folks served there every day.

Another member puts it this way:“Immersing in service activities always brings me immense happiness, because I do not think about anything except performing the task at hand with sincerity and love. It truly takes me to a different state of mind. And I see the same feeling being reflected in other devotees. I am thankful to Sai Baba for giving me this opportunity to serve this way.”

Silent cooperation within the group is reinforced by Sai Baba’s message on unity. As one member described it: Everyone worked steadily without being told what to do, just doing what they felt need to be done, whether an adult or youth volunteer. The teamwork is a great inspiration, too; we draw strength from each other, with an attitude of mutual help and working in unity for a greater cause. It is nice to see that everyone has something to offer.”

Sai Baba has often said, “Hands that help are holier than lips that pray.” Some devotees who are not able to attend Center meetings turn up for this service project, and so are able to carry out Sai Baba’s message of love and stay connected with the Center.

We find that selfless service broadens our outlook. Instead of obsessing on our own issues, our attention is directed outward and our hearts expand. As one Sai devotee shared: “Before I attended the service project at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen, my thoughts were different. I thought I was too busy at home and had no time. Later, I realized that if everybody in the world thought the same way I did, no one would help others. So, I changed my mind and participated in the service. I realized that if we help others, God will take care of our problems. I’m now thankful to God for the opportunity to work with and for others at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen.”

Sai Baba reminds us we must have self-confidence in all we do. He reminds us, “Why fear when I am here?”  One member shared an invaluable lesson she imbibed while cleaning the kitchen on various occasions: Sai Baba teaches that we should have self-confidence and not shrink from the things we feel we are not good at. If there is anything I am terrible at, it is organization and housekeeping. Yet, I was able (with His help and teamwork from the others) to contribute to make that kitchen shine!”

Working “invisibly” to those being served

We have carried out this project quarterly over the last few years. Although we have not interacted with very many of those we serve, we have a sense of joy from the feeling that we are doing a task that perhaps few are willing to do. In some small way, we have learned to sacrifice the fruits of our actions, since we are supporting and serving others whom we don’t even know or may never meet, and from whom we may never hear any words of thanks.

By our cleaning services, we enable the other volunteer groups, complete strangers to us, to carry out their service activities with less hassle and in a cleaner environment. So, we have experienced the profound lessons that strangers who have never met can still inspire each other to give of themselves. As one devotee reflected, this act of kitchen cleansing, though physically removed from the actual soup clientele themselves, made her feel that she was nevertheless in some way touching their lives with my love, that flowed from the Lord within me.”


We all leave happy and grateful each time we clean the kitchen. Through these simple acts of washing down walls, counters, and windows, we have experienced Swami’s lessons on love. His own words express this best:








“Cultivate the atmosphere of love and cooperation, and you can ensure joy forevermore. Seek ways of working together for the common good. Ahamkaramand mamakaram– the sense of Iand mine– these scotch love and cooperation. Reduce them to the minimum, and then start serving the needy and distressed. Service is best built on the strong foundation of Tat Twam Asi(That Thou Art). There is no other; there is only the One. Understand that all help you render is therefore help given to yourself; all service is to the self alone.”

Sathya Sai Baba, 23 Feb 2009 (http://media.radiosai.org/sai_inspires/2011/SI_20110505.htm)












- Sathya Sai Baba Center of Scarborough, Maine