The Sathya Sai Center of San Diego has had a feeding program for the poor for many years since 1992. In the beginning, bean burritos were prepared in a volunteer’s home and then distributed at several central city locations. Occasionally the Sai Spiritual Educare (SSE) children would join, making cheese-tomato, and peanut butter-jam sandwiches. The project remained small as locations for food preparation and distribution continually changed.

Momentum increased in 2009 when the San Diego Sathya Sai Center decided to engage their SSE children and families in a regular service activity. The first few batches of burritos and sandwiches were handed out from car windows to people sleeping on downtown streets. Shortly thereafter a permanent place to serve was selected, near downtown San Diego, which was a popular spot for homeless to gather. Some portable tables were purchased by volunteers and a regular time was established for the food distribution. Volunteers began to show up with dishes had prepared.  At first, some just wanted to drop off the food - perhaps being uncomfortable with the setting.  Eventually, the peaceful and loving environment prompted them to stay and serve, and to experience the joy that came from this loving service.  Many of our volunteers now consider this activity the high point of their week. It is pure divine grace that has privileged us to share meals with our less fortunate brothers and sisters!

A buffet style meal

The program evolved into a meal served buffet style every Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. We would start by blessing the food and those gathered for the meal. Participants would line-up to receive a hot rice-vegetable dish and their choice of several hot dishes and salads from the buffet. They would also given a grocery bag to pack a meal-to go. Sandwiches, burritos, fruits, water bottle, and snacks would be provided for this purpose.

Over the years, volunteer participation grew, with between 12-18 people from the San Diego Sathya Sai Center helping with the food preparation and other aspects of this service. The growing number of volunteers allowed us to expand the service to meet additional needs of the poor and homeless whom we call our brothers and sisters. Some of them broughr their pets. And we observed how often they were willing to share what little they received with their pets. Touched by this loving act rendered by those who were most needy themselves, we began providing pet food as well.  We also donated socks and clothing whenever possible.  A few members of the Northern San Diego County Sathya Sai Center started participating regularly. The SSE families and teachers continued to bring sandwiches and burritos for this service. During holidays we received seasonal donations of hygiene kits and special items for distribution. Since 2011 the number of people served has nearly doubled, so that we were serving 100 to 200 people weekly.  Occasionally, a bus or van would collect the homeless from various parts of town and bring them to our buffet line. According to one of the regular participants, the word was out: we were dependable, open, and provided good, nourishing food! The proof was reflected in substantial increase in the number of people served.

Love Responds with Love

Some comments that we heard from participants included constant expressions of appreciation.  “We appreciate you so much.” “God bless you.” “Even if I had the money, where could I go to get a meal like this?” “This is a place of peace” (said to a loud and disruptive man in line who then left quietly). “When I eat your food I don’t feel sick.” “This is the best meal we have all week.”   One of our homeless brothers once pulled out an old photo of his mother back in Africa and said that our food reminds him of her cooking—and  of her love!

Volunteers’ Experience

Almost every participant agreed that this is one of the most rewarding experiences they were part of.  Those who participated in the service feel privileged to do so.  As Sathya Sai Baba says, “Your skill or wealth or strength or courage or official position that gave you the chance to serve was the gift of God, whether you recognize it or not.”(1). Divine love was also keenly felt by all. This was evident the first Sunday after Sathya Sai Baba’s Maha-samadhi when several volunteers who had never participated in the service activity before, came to be in the atmosphere and gain comfort there. That afternoon we realized by “Spreading Love” we could remain in Sathya Sai Baba’s fold. Sai love in action was the most healing thing!

The joy one gets while promoting another’s joy is incomparable. Several volunteers, who participated weekly, shared what their experience has been like as they participate in the service activity. A participant who has had over twenty years of participation in the feeding service said, “Being part of this service has gradually awakened me to the presence of the Divine in every Being I serve. I have so much gratitude to Sathya Sai Baba for His teachings on service and for the inspiration He provided us to serve - which has led me to the experience of the truth of serving myself.” Another participant shared, “Taking part in the feeding is one of the most satisfying bonding experiences between my daughter and me.  We refer to it as going to see ‘our friends downtown’.  In many ways it resembles a friendly family potluck.”

The joy one gets while promoting another's joy is incomparable.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol 13, 04 Jan 1975

Yet another volunteer said, “I find this service to be the most intense and rewarding of all spiritual activities I engage in all week.  There is no need to close my eyes and visualize divinity, I can easily see Him in every one of our needy brothers and sisters—and the volunteers!”

As for me, I remember five siblings, four boys and a girl, who usually came to our feeding. I will never forget the joy I experienced seeing their excitement upon receiving crayons and coloring books from me one afternoon. The boys quickly opened the gift bags and were very excited to find super-hero coloring books - chosen just for them. When the shy little girl opened her bag and found it to be filled with girl stuff - she could not contain her gratitude and excitement. Jumping with a huge smile, she hugged me spontaneously. It took very little to get them smile. But the joy I experienced was priceless!  I cannot think of a more rewarding way of spending my Sunday afternoon.

~ Donna Killey

Sathya Sai Baba Center of San Diego



(1) Sri Sathya Sai Baba, 22 Nov 1970 .