Lunch with a Side of Smiles and Love
The Mental Health Association (MHA) in Santa Ana, CA, is a non-profit facility aimed at restoring independent living, socialization, and effective life management skills for adults with psychiatric disorders. The organization focuses on addressing practical life issues such as coping, relationship formation, housing, transportation, education, and employment, while providing a supportive environment to encourage positive choices. Several service projects have taken place at this facility. Till 2016, about 10 young adults (YAs) of the Sathya Sai Organization, USA Region 8 (Pacific South), prepared and served lunch every 3rd Sunday of the month, to about 70 individuals. Below are four heartfelt reflections from young adults on how their lives were transformed and touched by this joyous, humbling and inspiring activity and the bond that had formed over the years between the server and the served.
“What is humanness? Essentially it means unity in thought, word, and deed.”
Sri Sathya Sai Baba, 24 Mar 1989
For two years, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve the members of the MHA facility. On a weekly basis there was a breakfast service to make a warm meal for those who made use of the facility. In a typical week, most of the people at the facility did not have access to hot meals; so breakfast was one steadfast option. While this project was fulfilling from seeing individuals able to get a warm meal, the experience was more than just satiating a physical hunger.
The chance to have harmony between awareness, action, and attitude was what this project taught and meant to me. Those folks who sought help from MHA had needs that stretched beyond mental health issues, and the organization did what it could to cope but did not necessarily have the resources required. After attending the breakfast-service project for a period of time, I became aware that the MHA could not serve hot meals more than once a week.
Realizing there was an opportunity to serve the facility by serving more meals, I began talking to others in the community. With the support of fellow young adults and Sai leadership, we planned the logistics and started to put things together. After overcoming a few trials and logistical challenges, our idea turned into a reality and a monthly service project was born. The young adults turned their awareness of a need into action, and the project continued successfully for two years.
As the group got together, served a meal, and cleaned up afterward, all within the allocated time; however, without the awareness of the presence of the Divine within each of us, serving felt robotic and without depth. But, working with those who had the attitude of serving God and pouring love into their actions had been inspirational to me. Reducing the “social hour” aspect of service projects and filling the room with attention to serving others added a new dimension to the experience. With divine grace, this project continued to help me and others involved experience more truth – the truth we experience when what we feel, know, and do are in unison.
“Develop love. This is more important than your worldly education. Love is life. Not merely that – love is light. It illumines your path and helps you reach the goal. Your journey of life will be safe and secure when you carry the light of love with you. You will never find darkness. Fill your heart with love. Love is God. Live in love.”
Sathya Sai Baba, 17 Oct 2003
The first time I volunteered for the MHA service, 18 Oct 2009, I was fairly new to the YA group and hardly knew anyone. I was really excited but also a little skeptical. I remember getting there and having no idea what I was expected to do, but within 5 minutes of being with everyone, I felt comfortable; it felt like I had been coming there for years. I had volunteered a few times before on other projects, but mostly it involved standing around doing nothing. This time I actually felt we were doing something meaningful and rewarding.
The whole process of cooking together and feeding the MHA patients was enjoyable and humbling at the same time. It was great to see the way patients looked forward to their meal and the blessings they gave us in return. To say the least, it was a heartfelt experience. I remember walking out of there with tons of emotions. A fellow YA called me to ask how I felt about the project, and I wanted to share my experience but instead burst into tears. Of course, those tears were of sheer joy, and she got her answer without me even saying a word. At that very moment, I knew that I wanted to come to the MHA service project every month if possible. The only way I would miss it would be if I were not in town. The MHA project became an important part of my life, not to mention the great friendships I formed during this time. I am thankful that I had this wonderful opportunity.
Love all, serve all.
“Fill your hearts with love and let love be the guiding principle in all your activities.” —Sathya
Sathya Sai Baba, 13
The service project at the Mental Health Association took just a few hours of my time every month, yet it was a life-altering experience. The first time I went to serve, I looked forward to it like any other service activity, but I left with a new perspective and many lessons learned. I hold the MHA experience close to my heart because it was a service project in which I felt love enveloping all that was done. From choosing the freshest vegetables at the market, to preparing the food, to serving the meal, a lot of attention and devotion went into each step. I was amazed at how much love and dedication my fellow young adults put into everything they did, and I strove to do the same.
Yet it was not only the kindness of the other devotees that touched me but also the kindness of those served. So many people took time to talk to us, thank us, and tell us in detail what part of the meal they enjoyed most. I was taken aback that the residents at MHA, with so many problems in their lives, took time to be kind and grateful to us. This lesson I carry with me always and it has inspired me to show my appreciation to everyone in my own life.
I brought non-Sai friends to the service project from time to time, and, upon leaving, these friends shared the same sentiments I did about the experience. They felt moved by the people they served and felt as though their volunteering made a difference in the community. Some were so affected that they returned time and again or set out to find opportunities to serve in their own communities.
Every time I participated, I was struck with the simple teaching of our dear Sathya Sai Baba: “Love all, serve all,”. The project blossomed into something that touched the lives of many, in ways I could not even begin to comprehend. My life was transformed and touched by this activity, one plate of food at a time.
Volunteering at the MHA to serve a hearty lunch with a side of smiles and song became part of a monthly routine for many of the volunteers. Everyone who volunteered for the first time became hungry to come back to do more. The joy of working together, amid song and chopping, stirring, and mixing, led to a group cohesion where each volunteer stepped in to help one another and multitask if needed, all adding to the joy and fulfillment it brought to all. In some instances, volunteers were moved to tears as an expression of this joy; one volunteer readily gave away her jacket when one of the residents complimented it. Such was the close relationship that was formed over the years between the serving and the served.
We were blessed to have had this opportunity to do a service that strengthened our unity and purpose to experience Sai Baba’s teaching that “service to man is service to God”!
Currently, the food service at the MHA is being carried out weekly by the members of the Tustin, Mission Viejo and Lakewood centers, who prepare and deliver meals to 350 people in 6 shelters.
SSIO-USA Region 8