Look upon service to society as the means of finding self-fulfillment in life. . . . Face whatever problems may arise with faith and courage and carry on [your] service activities without fanfare in a spirit of humility and dedication.

Sathya Sai Baba, 18 Nov 1984(http://www.sssbpt.info/ssspeaks/volume17/sss17-27.pdf)

Breakfast Service at Mental Health Association of Orange County, California

Service is the path taken for spiritual advancement by a group of volunteers from the Sathya Sai Baba Center of Tustin, in Southern California. Every Saturday since 1997, volunteers have prepared and served Saturday breakfast at the Mental Health Association of Orange County (MHA-OC) facility in Santa Ana, California. They delight in this weekly task, for it returns more than what they offer – an inner transformation.

The Mental Health Association (MHA) is dedicated to improving the quality of life of Orange County residents impacted by mental illness. It serves adults who have severe and persistent psychiatric disorders. The clientele for this facility are all prescreened and part of a counseling program – many of them are homeless, having lost their jobs due to their illness – and only those who are part of the counseling program are allowed to enter the building.


A Healthy Vegetarian Breakfast

For each Saturday breakfast to this group, the volunteers prepare wheat pancakes (plain, blueberry/chocolate chip) with butter and syrup; scrambled vegetable tofu with salsa; bean burritos; oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins; fruits such as watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe; and milk and orange juice. The volunteers prepare food for approximately 100 people, of which 60 to 80 people are breakfast clients at MHA.

The remaining share is delivered to WISE Place, a shelter for homeless women, also in Santa Ana, which typically serves about 30 women for breakfast. WISE Place offers housing and support services for homeless women who are committed to changing their lives.

About 15 volunteers are involved in this project, with an average of 12 participating each week. They start at 7.20 am, and the food is served at 8.45. The volunteers clean up and leave by about 9.30.


Meeting the Challenge of Serving the Mentally Challenged

Serving the mentally challenged does pose its own challenges to the volunteers, for it requires of us much compassion and understanding, but love always triumphs! These people have various mental disorders. While the food is being prepared, they often approach the volunteers to inquire where they are from or about the “person” in the picture (Sai Baba’s picture). The clients often have a short temper, tending to anger upon the least provocation, and hence must be dealt with carefully.

Volunteers over the years have become very tactful in dealing with the clientele, handling such outbursts in a loving manner and taking care not to say or do anything that would provoke them further. By divine grace, things have worked out well and there have been no incidents of unruly behavior.

Rather, every week a few of the guests even come forward to help the volunteers carry items from the parking lot to the kitchen. Quite often they approach the us and say, “Thanks for the great breakfast. God bless you.” When we take our leave, they all join in applauding the service. Not that the volunteers are seeking praise or recognition, but the recipients’ blessings do bring a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment to the hearts of the volunteers.

Little “Miracles” That Inspire Confidence

Service often strengthens one’s faith. Serving at MHA has given the volunteers so many opportunities to see and experience personally both divine cooperation and divine assistance in the undertakingMany a time, when it looked as if there would be a shortage of volunteers, a volunteer would show up, seemingly out of nowhere, revealing the divine unseen hand.

In fact, this has happened so often over the years that the volunteers feel confident to take on any task, knowing that the Lord will take care and make sure the service project runs smoothly. Indeed, he provides the confidence, inner motivation, guidance, and strength needed for the volunteers to conduct this program week after week. Thanks to his grace, the MHA breakfast service has not missed a single week in the past 15 years.


Volunteers’ Reflections

Long involvement in any selfless service is bound to bring out in an individual just that: selflessness. The MHA project has been instrumental in the spiritual evolution of many of the volunteers, as evidenced by their own experience. It has enabled them to put Sai Baba’s teachings into practice, through love and service to God as the divinity who dwells in all hearts, and to experience glimpses of peace and joy firsthand. Below are some their personal reflections:

  • “Service gives me a perfect opportunity to put into action the prayer, Make me an instrument to work for thee . . . for me to know that when I have a selfless, pure thought and take one step toward implementing it, Sai will do the rest for me.”
  • “The service project makes me feel very good. Sai Baba says, You and I are one.By serving, it makes me feel closer to people. I feel that I’m no different from that person I’m serving. It has allowed me to focus more on Sai Baba’s teachings. More important, it has enabled me to better understand the unity and love Swami talks about.”
  • “This service has made me humble and more sensitive to the needs of others. It has brought me a new perspective, when spending on big expenses that are not really necessary, about how many people we could have served with that money.”
  • “Sai Baba says, Service to man is service to God (Manava Seva is Madhava Seva), and Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray. I truly believe in that. Serving has taught me real values. Doing service motivates me to do more things in this life for others.”
  • “The service activity, more than helping others, has brought me a lot of personal refinement. I forget my other ‘baggage,’ like worries or ego, and work as a team with unity. There is no ‘I’ in a team.”
  • “When I go to serve, I feel I’m near Sai Baba. When I serve, I feel I’m serving Sai Baba. Serving people has changed my life. I would like to do more.”
  • “It gives me pleasure to serve the poor and the needy, and it gives me peace of mind. When people say, ‘God bless you,’ I feel the blessing is coming from Sai himself.”
  • “I feel unexplainable joy when I do service. It makes me feel closer to God. You are on this earth for a purpose; fulfill that purpose before you leave this earth. Service is an easy and simple way of experiencing bliss.”

Consistent Dedication

Over the years, the breakfast service project at MHA-OC has expanded in terms of volunteers, the menu items served, and the number of people served. The Director of the MHA has credited the service project for bringing more people into their program. We feel it is purely Sai Baba’s blessing that we have had individuals who are consistent in their dedication and devotion, which has sustained this activity very strongly over the years. With the Lord’s grace, we will continue to serve numerous people in the future.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted, and behold, service was joy.  —Rabindranath Tagore

Sathya Sai Baba Center of Tustin, CA