My name is Beth Clark, and I attend the South Bethesda Sai Center in Maryland. Sai Baba has said, 

“Service to man will help your divinity to blossom, for it will gladden your heart and make you feel that life has been worthwhile. Service to man is service to God, for God is in every man, every living being and in every stone and stump.” 

Sathya Sai Speaks, vol. 14 p. 178

Truer words were never spoken, and have been the impetus for a service activity that started in 2000. In 2000, Sheela Nayak, also from the South Bethesda Sai Center, started volunteering in the kitchen of the non-profit “Food & Friends,” which prepares and packages meals and groceries for delivery to individuals living with HIV/AIDS and other life-challenging illnesses. In 2001, Food & Friends needed food delivery volunteers, and Sheela signed up for a route near her home. In 2003, I joined her, and we have been delivering food and companionship ever since.

Annually, Food & Friends serves more than 2,800 men, women and children of all ages living with HIV/AIDS, all types of cancer, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and other life-challenging illnesses, as well as family members providing care to the client or other caregivers. More than 75% of the clients have monthly incomes less than $1,000; for most, Food & Friends is their only support. Determination of eligibility is entirely health-based; there ar no requirements for income or insurance coverage. Since 1988, 15,000,000 meals have been delivered to over 21,000 clients.Every week, Food & Friends delivers the hot and cold meals, and groceries, to Sheela’s home. Before starting our route, we sanctify the food by chanting nine Gayatri Mantras, nine Sai Gayatris, and the Jewish “Shema” prayer, proclaiming that God is one. As we deliver the food, we stop to talk with the clients and are blessed with the “payment” of warm hugs and smiles. The clients are always so grateful and thankful for the food. One client called us “God’s angels.” We told her that she was also God’s angel and thanked her for giving us this opportunity to serve. Our clients give us the opportunity to see God in everyone. 

“The core of this spiritual discipline of selfless service is to see everyone as yourself and yourself in everyone.”

Sathya Sai Baba 

There is something about our clients that is very special – despite the hardships they face, we are always greeted with a smile and a kind word. Many of the clients are lonely, their only contact being with us and with health care individuals. Naturally, they want to talk when we bring their food, and of course we give them our undivided attention. I am always amazed and humbled at their positive outlook on life, and their unwillingness to let their health issues define who they are.  Occasionally, they try to give us gifts – and we tell them that allowing us to serve is the only gift we need. However, there was one time when the client was insistent.  There was no choice but to accept. After we left Sheela said that this was obviously very important to him and commented on how happy he was to be able to give us this token of thanks. I remember wondering if I could be as gracious if I was in their place. I know I have learned a lot about looking on the bright side from our clients.

Another poignant memory was the time my 14-year old grandson accompanied us on our delivery route. One client noticed him sitting in the car, came out, and proceeded to lecture him on appropriate life choices. He said that decisions my grandson made early in life could impact the rest of his life. The client made a huge impression on my grandson!

Often when we deliver food and hear a particularly heartbreaking story, or hear that one of our client’s health has deteriorated, we leave with a heavy heart and on more than one occasion have commented, “there but for the Grace of God…” We know that everything is perfect and our good or ill health is all in God’s plan for us, and we know that we are serving clients with terminal illnesses. Still, it is difficult to watch the clients lose their battles. They become a part of our lives, and we, theirs, and when one succumbs, it is truly like losing a friend. However, we are comforted by the knowledge that we were allowed to make their lives just a little better during
the time we knew them.

We are truly grateful to have this opportunity to serve and allow Swami’s Love to flow through them to us and from us to them.  e are constantly reminded of our great good fortune to have this opportunity to serve, and to meet such wonderfully courageous people, who smile and welcome us with open hearts. What an incredible blessing to have this opportunity to serve, and hope that by doing our small part, we might leave ourselves and the world just a little better.

 

“Do not believe that you can by means of seva reform or reshape the world. You may or may not, that does not matter. The real value of seva, its most visible result, is that it reforms you, reshapes you. Do seva as a sadhana [spiritual discipline]; then you will be happy.”

Sathya Sai Baba, Discourse on March 29, 1967 in Mumbai