Feeding the homeless: From serving all to loving all
Every Saturday since September of 2000, a group of 10 to 15 members of the Sathya Sai Center of Colorado Springs, Colorado, would gather at 8:45 a.m. at one of our private residences to prepare and serve homeless and needy people in downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Our Sai Center members enthusiastically prepare enough homemade cooked vegetable rice, fruit, juice, bread, and crackers to feed lunch to over 100 people. Commencing the service project with a prayer, we neatly pack 108 bags with our offerings. We sing devotional songs throughout the packing process, ending with a prayer dedicating the food and the entire activity to God.
Once the packing is complete, we share about our experiences of the project and discuss possible improvements until 9:45 a.m. Then we load the bags in one of our vehicles and head for our downtown location by the park, arriving at around 10:10 a.m. for the distribution.
The needy citizens are waiting in disciplined lines, ready to receive not only food, but other needed items such as batteries, hand warmers (during winter), socks, gloves, flashlights, and razors. Pet food is also offered to those who have need of it.
Over time, the recipients have learned discipline and about sharing love. We often see some of the hungry take extra bags to give to those who cannot walk or stand in the lines. They originally often took more than what they personally needed, but now they sweetly provide for and share with their fellow citizens.
It was quite challenging to control the crowd when we began this service and to keep them in line, as they were not used to our way of doing service, which is inspired by Sathya Sai Baba and emphasizes personal character and discipline.
For instance, some people would come late and ask for a lunch bag after all the lunches had been given out. After we explained how important it was to be on time, they learned that if they came late, they would miss their lunch. In addition, sometimes people would request non-food items that we knew they had received the previous week. We had to remind them that these items were for their personal use only, not to be sold to others for money.
Recently, one of the homeless gentlemen approached one of us and offered $10, admitting, “I took your items and sold them in a shop for $10, but when I tried to spend the money, something was stopping me from doing that. So, here is your money. I am sorry for doing this.”
To us, this shows that the Divine hand is behind this service at every point, and nothing can go wrong. God is the giver and the receiver, the One who provides the funds, the hands that serve, and the hearts that receive. This has been quite a revelation for all of us! We have learned that with determination and patience, over time, changes do take place.
Howard Feldenkreis, who has been involved in this ongoing project for several years, explained, “We have made tons of scrumptious vegetable and rice packets, and we have put together thousands of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, along with bananas, juices, and chips. It is our hands but Sai Baba’s inspiration. I admit there are times when I would rather take a break, but the draw has been the wonderful people being served. Over the years, we have come to know many of them by name. Our attitude is, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ and there are no puffed-up egos in the doing – it is all the Lord’s grace, plain and simple.”
Those with an interest in becoming involved in this service project are always welcomed and given a loving introduction into the project and the opportunity to serve.
As this project is located in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, we experience the four seasons, including a very cold winter and a lovely and temperate summer. Regardless of the weather, the weekly service continued without fail and takes into consideration that there might be even more hungry people when the temperature is very chilly. The desire to feed the hungry is always motivated by dedication to Sathya Sai Baba and to living his message of “Love All, Serve All.”
“When I first joined this project,” continues Feldenkreis, “I questioned whether it was necessary to provide items other than food. However, when I observed women and children arriving for help in the cold winter weather, it became clear to me that our Beloved Sai Baba was showing us what should be given. Often we observe needy citizens lining up to receive food when they haven’t eaten for a day or two. As they accept the offering, the smile on their faces and their heart-felt ‘God Bless You’ is the best reward we can ever receive.”
Our motivation in the project is Sai Baba’s admonition to place ourselves in the other’s feet and feel their experience. Remembering this also keeps us moving forward during challenging times. The remembrance of those faces in the lines waiting for their lunch bags is so profound that we feel we cannot give up this loving service project.
“I began participating in this feeding with a feeling that I should ‘Serve All,’” says Feldenkreis, “but over time this changed to ‘Love All,’ as I began to see myself in those we are serving.”
Sathya Sai Baba Center of Colorado Springs, CO