Issue 4, January 22, R4
San Francisco's famous landmark-The city Hall
Sai Youth Distributing Hoodies, Soup and Gloves to Homeless
The Volunteers after distribution
Seva on 17th Dec 2016
A person should strive to use every talent and skill they have, not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole world. Understand that society is the source of whatever pleasure one derives and whatever wealth one achieves in life. We owe everything to society and should be grateful to society for all that we receive from it. We have to repay this debt by helping at least as many people as we can.
~Sathya Sai Baba
Everyone living or visiting the San Francisco Bay Area is familiar with the City Hall, a prominent visiting spot in the city of San Francisco. Tourists love taking photographs, discussing its history and its wonderful structural design, the World War stories associated with this historic place. It is also remembered for the devastating earthquake of 1906 (Yes, the same earthquake that destroyed 80% of San Francisco) and fire that ravaged through the building more than a century ago and caused it to burn down!! But amidst its beauty, seldom do we notice the number of homeless people scattered in the open plaza that surrounds this magnificent building.
Ordinary tarp sheets turn into tents for the night, shopping carts turn into closets and suitcases to carry their belongings and the parks, plazas, doorways, alleyways become campsites. But they have to leave by morning before the city gets busy and pedestrians start walking on the pavements. Some of them end up living on the streets for multiple nights and find it challenging to find a spot to sleep, as their “usual” spots get occupied by other homeless people.
On November 23, 2016, some of us were driving around San Jose and San Francisco, overwhelmed after Bhagawan’s 91st birthday celebrations. With the season changing and the chills settling in, it was rather an uneasy sight to see homeless people on the streets struggling to stay warm during the evenings, when the mercury dipped. This brought about the idea of distributing Hoodies, Gloves and Hot Soup to the homeless people. We believed that this would perhaps provide some relief to the homeless people from the cold and would make Swami very happy.
As Swami says, “It is only love that can successfully carry out schemes for service and uplift.” He encourages any selfless thought to be put into action. During His visit to California in June 2016, Swami inspired and guided the youth to specifically address homelessness amongst the youth. He asked us to focus on finding a permanent solution end homelessness in youth. As a first step, the Sai Youth in the Bay Area have taken up Seva for the homeless as a monthly activity.
While we were eager to do this Seva as soon as possible, the wait to place the order for hoodies and gloves and the time estimated for delivery was filled with anxiety. When one’s thought is noble, Swami ensures all things work in the right way. With His grace, the entire order was received in just two days! The homeless people at the plaza there woke up to some hot soup, hoodies(45), gloves(45), snack bars and fruits.
The morning of December 17, 2016 was extremely cold. The people were very happy to receive the winter gear and Hot Soup and the smile on their faces said it all. The volunteers also had a few interesting experiences. One of the people who came up to the volunteers was so cold, he didn’t want to wait in line for his turn. He simply pushed through to get a hoodie. Our hearts melted with sympathy at the same time we were left to wonder how he would have managed through the night in the cold.
One of the most profound things we volunteers realized on that day was the amount of compassion and love they had towards other people, despite their difficult conditions. Some of the people had a few layers of clothes to protect them but it was quite a dismay to see few others with just one layer of clothing, struggling to stay warm. The ones who were fairly equipped told us to “distribute the hoodies to someone who’s cold and would need something warm.” What was even more difficult to see were the physically ailing people with amputations and the paraplegic living on the streets - there definitely is a huge need for serving them. When these people could not accept the winter clothing because of their physical disabilities, they requested that we place the items inside their bags or wear it on them. It was a sight that moved us all: we noticed that their friends in the community kept a close eye on them, making sure they were safe and had access to the food and clothing we brought. Through their loving actions, we were convinced that they have more true friends and people to help and care for them, than the people living in the society at large. In today’s world where greed and the ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ ideology is spreading its wings, these homeless people taught us the value of being human. It was truly Swami’s message for us and a Divine moment.
We also realised that not all the homeless people are necessarily unemployed or poor; many of them do multiple jobs during the day to earn some money but spend the nights on the streets because they are unable to afford a good place to live. They either wait for a better job to click or try to save as much money as they can so they can afford a house. And then there were people who asked for food and people who asked for jobs.
We finished distribution in about an hour. While we were very happy to help close all 45 of them, our hearts went out to those who came running to us with the hope of getting some warm soup and goodies, especially, since the last few days had been very cold. It was very disheartening to tell them that we were out of goodies and food.
Seva on Dec 24th 2016
“Service broadens your vision, widens your awareness and deepens your compassion”.
~Sathya Sai Baba
Swami’s words on love and service as well as the disappointment on the face of those who did not receive the goodies were encrypted on our minds. So, we decided to go back again the following week at the same place (Civic Center Plaza San Francisco) and distribute the same goodies once again, this time we also had socks, cereal bars and water in our list. We also decided to double the quantity (108). This would be perfect since it was going to be Christmas eve and there was no better way to begin the festivities than bringing a smile on the faces of the homeless with this little Christmas present.
Inspired by the experiences from the week before, a larger group of volunteers joined us for Seva this time. We went back to the same place, the San Francisco City Hall plaza, and started distributing the goodies to all those who spent that night on the streets. Since the homeless population is so large in this place, it was easy to identify people who had not received the Christmas gifts the week before. Once again, to our surprise all the goodies were given out within an hour.
All of us were moved by the helplessness and despair of the people who spend many nights on the streets. Many a times we saw young children as well. In our hearts, we thanked Swami for giving us this beautiful opportunity to bring a smile at least on some faces. In a subtle way, he also showed us the empathy and compassion the homeless people have, despite their difficult situation. It was a good learning for us to see their selflessness to put their friend’s suffering ahead of their own.
One of the homeless disabled friend summed it up for us when we asked him how he spends his entire day. He replied nonchalantly, “I exist.”
Sometimes people decry these homeless people as alcoholics, vagabonds and as a nuisance. For them, its a way of coping to survive just one of the many the harsh winter nights, mostly with minimum clothing and no shelter. While we cannot condone alcoholism, it is true that we should also not be judgmental about it when it comes to service. You cannot preach values and good habits to a person who is in absolute need of food and shelter, especially those of us who turn up the heaters in our homes at the slightest breeze outside; we simply cannot comprehend what these people undergo every day and every night. Those who sit on the coziness of their couches and watch the weather channel cannot condemn the homeless as alcoholics or lazy. They should first picture this: that some of these homeless people probably eat meals once a day or few times a week, they seldom have access to drinking water to drink and bathrooms. The need of the hour is not to debate these issues intellectually; rather it’s the time to serve. They may actually grow to be exemplary citizens if opportunities are provided.
Our perspective should be to serve, to help, should try not to argue with our “minds,” but to feed joy to the “soul”. The look on the faces of some of these people who received the hoodies and beanies gave us such immense joy, that in the end, we could not decide if it was we gave who them joy or vice versa.
More goodies this time…