Be the Cause

the first time volunteering at seva café

I had the privilege of being part of the Seva Café in 2007 as a guest. Sadly it was just the one time and that was the last day of Seva Café’s run at the Royal Cup Café. I was disappointed to have discovered that I missed out on months of serving, interacting, being a part of and witnessing incredible & genuine moments. Is this what had been happening here all along? How could I have not known the depth and intensity of what goes on here? Not too mention the fun.

This past Sunday morning I awoke with great anticipation. On my drive to Zephyr’s, thoughts of what volunteer role I would be assigned in our collective ran through my head. I told myself that it didn’t matter and I was happy with however I could contribute. When I got there, we decided to have the volunteer orientation a bit later so we could allow time for all of the volunteers to arrive. In the meanwhile, we started preparing. Still I couldn’t let go of the mystery I had built up inside my head, when will we know what we are doing for the night? When do we find out? (I had missed the email sent out earlier with the volunteer assignments).

All of a sudden it didn’t matter because somehow we all naturally fell into a flow in preparing the food; washing, cutting, chopping, finding, moving, storing. It was so organic. I was amazed at how people who hadn’t met before that night and had never been to the restaurant or Seva Café, so seamlessly moved together. Without any awareness of it, I let go of my previous thoughts.

In the kitchen I met another volunteer. We instantly bonded over travel stories, our passions, and tacky jewelry. We couldn’t stop talking. During the volunteer orientation we discovered that we would both be washing dishes that night. We shared with each other the therapeutic and almost meditative state washing dishes allows us to experience. We were told that another volunteer was on their way and that this person would also be standing alongside us washing dishes.

We went into the kitchen and started preparing. As the used plates, cups, and silverware were being brought into the kitchen by our fellow volunteers, a new person also showed up in the kitchen. We assumed he was the other volunteer who would also help to wash the dishes. So we shoved an apron in his hands and explained to him the flow we had adopted in washing the dishes. We engaged in conversation. He imparted some of his dishwashing secrets & tricks learned from his days of working at Little Cesar’s. Things ran smoothly for the rest of the night and we all had a good time together.

At the end of the night, we pushed a few tables together in the restaurant, and thanks to the dedicated BTC volunteers, had a festive meal awaiting us. As we all sat together sharing food, the volunteer who had showed up in the kitchen to wash the dishes sat in his chair drinking a glass of water. We offered to pass him along a plate of food, but he said it was okay, he wasn’t hungry. He then told us that he had heard about Seva Café earlier that day and decided to show up for a meal. Someone then asked him, so you weren’t here to volunteer? He said no. We all laughed. Then someone else asked, how did you end up in the kitchen and why didn’t you say something? He said, when things like that happen I just roll with it. We were all amused.

The next morning this guy was on my mind. I wondered if he knew the affect he had made on us that night. I knew for me, being aware and present in each moment is something I am constantly striving for, whether it is while I am doing the most mundane of activities or having a conversation with a person. Here was this guy who walked into a space not knowing anyone, looking forward to sitting down and nourishing himself, and somehow he got shuffled into the kitchen, washing dishes for 4 hours!  This guy was a testament to living in the moment. Although he had come to eat, he only had water when we had all gathered at the end of the night. I had to be honest with myself that morning, would I have done the same? Would I have volunteered when my intention was to be a guest? Would I have said something?

That night I saw the difference a group of strangers could make, I made new friends, I witnessed pure acts of selflessness, I saw the restaurant go from empty to at capacity, and I left energized & happy that I was somehow able to be a part of it all. There is no telling what will happen the next time I volunteer at Seva Café.



Just an appetizer

This is just the appetizer said Virenbhai as he addressed the 20 plus volunteers cramped in the Seva Cafe kitchen. This is just the beginning. We must keep moving forward to create more meaningful projects and to continue serving others. The main dish, he stated, still awaits us.

In that anticipation he lit a fire that got many of us thinking: What else could we be doing to serve others; How else can we help to make this world a better place?

Virenbhai’s visit in that sense was just a reminder of what life could have in store for us. He only spent a few hours with us, but even so, he has left a deep change stirring within.

Virenbhai, for those of you that aren’t familiar, co-founded an organization 20 years ago that now cares for 6000 children every day, runs over 50 projects and does it all with one governing principle: that to lovingly care for others is our nature and our duty. This principle is so ingrained in the staff and the volunteers that even the recipients of their good work get indoctrinated with it. The organization is now literally being run by those who once benefited from it, because they now too realize that they must continue this circle of giving.

This love for service is apparent in all that Virenbhai does. A few minutes at the Seva Cafe and he immediately rushed to the kitchen to start washing dishes. I literally had to pull him away to introduce him to some of the guests.

Despite his busy schedule, between getting awards at the King Institute in Stanford and visiting family in Chicago, he took the time to visit us. His visit was more a gift than a tour, he even brought kites so that we could get a taste of the Kite Festival from his home town of Ahmadabad, Gujarat. As we flew the kites in the afternoon a few kids in the nearby park curiously came up to us. Virenbhai happily greeted them and sent them on their way with new gifts. A brother and sister held hands as they ran off. Their new kites flinging behind them in anticipation of flights yet to come. A hand made necklace bearing the faces of Gandhi and King dangled between the two as they held in tightly in their joined palms. A picturesque moment as the sun began to fade and dip ahead of them. All we saw as we stared in their direction was a brighter future.

For those of you that helped make his trip happen, thank you. More on Manav Sadhna, the organization that Virenbhai helped start:

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