Stories Submitted by Volunteers

Every week, volunteers come together to create an experiment in generosity. It moves some to tears, it inspires many to pay-it-forward in beautiful ways, it silently shifts the spirit of just about everyone. Below are some of the stories that people have shared, and we invite you to share your story as well.

We invite you to submit your stories here.

Sep 19, 2014: A Late Autumn Experiment In Giftivism

Karma Kitchen was in full swing again this Sunday.
Of course, the story begins far before any of us get there, with the inspirations and messages that inspire us to go. Also, the night before, my sister made rakhis and pipe cleaner animals and Mr. Stoll's daughter Emma made friendship bracelets.

Also, Mr. Stoll gave me, Pallavi, Sonali, and Neha a carpool from Fremont to Berkeley. It was so that the circle of sharing began bright and early at 8:30 :)

Here are some of the stories through my eyes:

1. Mango Bob (or Rainbow Light, if you please)

Our first customer arrived at 10:30, not 11, and was the first in the door. His name was Mango Bob (one of his several names.). He said I could also call him Rainbow Light if I wanted as that was his internal state of mind. He was a former Berkeley Spanish professor who had also traveled the world many times. When I asked him to reflect on that journey in conjunction with the day's theme of Gratitude, he immediately gave me two huge pieces of advice - the first was that "You are pure awareness. Only the ego mind can make you forget that. When you feel that thought come up, just say 'Thank you, ego. Next!' and let that thought go, because it's not helping you." What a beautiful message to start the day with!

Then he started talking about how he didn't believe in things like age and health, and he hadn't been to the doctor in 20 years. When I asked him how he maintained himself, he just said "Tell your cells Peace Peace Peace Love Love Love Joy Joy Joy and then tell them what a great job they're doing and then tell them DANCE! That's all I've done for 20 years and I've never gotten sick and ever had to go to the doctor. Just love yourself". He probably spent 15-20 minutes talking about me earnestly on this issue and really felt this message was important to share!

2. Brother Tim and Joyci

After that, our next guest was Joyci, a local Berkeleyian (is that a thing) who had invited her friend Brother Tim from Castro Valley. They both came in and didn't know what to expect, but started opening up when I asked them about gratitude. Brother Tim reflected that he had a home, a full belly, people who loved him, and those people were safe, and that was all he needed. How beautiful. When they came in, both of them seemed straight-faced, but all of our energy connected and as soon as they opened up they had these content smiles on their faces. Then someone gave them heart pins and they were so touched by the story of how they had gotten to KK that day through brother Joserra, and someone gave them rakhis saying they were our brothers and sisters in kindness :)

They were so happy with the experience that they said they wanted to come volunteer next time!

brother tim on the left, sister joyci on the right. 

3. A Writer, an Educator, and a Friend

Mina, who is a longtime practitioner of mindfulness in everything, had just published a book on mindfulness and teaching. She gifted a copy to us (that day!) saying that it should go to an educator. Little did we know how this would play out!

Later, Diana brought her friend Julia, who was a high school teacher, to Karma Kitchen and while they were both having lunch I asked Julia what had made her come. She said that she wanted to share the ideas of kindness and generosity with all of her students. Mr. Stoll, who is teaching kindness along with calculus, talked to her about his 21 day challenge at Harker and his personal journey of holding silence in his class and doing his own RAOKs and how that had positively affected him. Then he gifted her the book from Mina. As they were about to leave, they had these huge smiles on their faces - Diana because she accomplished her goal of showing her friend a good time, and Julia because she was excited to discuss these ideas with a circle she runs at her school.

4. A Spiritual Advisor, a Naan Lover, and an Artist walk into a Pay-it-Forward Kitchen

The next story involves David Lapedis, who brought his two friends Victoria and an artist (I don't remember her name, sorry) and as they were eating their meal, I asked them to share a bit about themselves. David talked about how he found his inner calling and was driven to help others find theirs. I joked that I could use a spiritual advisor, and he offered up his card in an act of kindness to me!

Victoria was just craving naan, and as we kept bringing it out to her, she was amazed saying "I can have more? Really?" It was so much fun to receive her gratitude and what a great fit for our theme of the day.

Finally the artist was talking about being, well, an artist, and also how she loved working with people and bringing art to them to make their day. We told her about our recent Awakin call with Lily Yeh and her work with Barefoot Artists, and that maybe she'd be on our call in a few years, who knows!? She found this very inspiring and wanted to know more about her work :)

5. Rebecca and Family

A family of a Berkeley junior walked in and sat down at the table farthest into the restaurant. They'd never been to KK before, and really didn't know what they were in for. We all opened them up to kindness and gratitude slowly - the dad started talking about his experiences going to Berkeley and how grateful he was for the scholarship he received that enabled him to go there. And now his daughter was following in his footsteps! That got the mom going on the importance of family and how blessed she was for her daughter and her husband.

Throughout their meal, we gave them heart pins and rakhis. I even overheard the dad say at one point "What are we doing do deserve all this extra trouble?" :)

Nothing, it's just that no one leaves Karma Kitchen without a smile on their face!

6. Kaz from Japan

Professor Kaz was eating on the community table along with brother Joserra and Mordecai (apologies on the spelling) and some new guests! When I asked him about his meal and gratitude, he immediately talked about his research at Stanford's economics department on the "economics of Gandhi," and how blessed he was to be able to research someone who himself was in the spirit of fearless love and gratitude.

I would totally take that class!

Brother Jose himself was making some great inspiring conversation about his open plans and how he wanted to bring this to Spain!

7. South Asian Activism

In the corner were two Indian Berkeley students who had just come from a convention on South Asian 'Radicalism' (radical in love!). They were talking about how there's actually a history of South Asian activism and social consciousness that gets supressed by the common notions of the stereotypes of Indian culture, and they were working to spread the word about people working for the good of everyone :)

They remarked on how wonderful the idea of Karma Kitchen was and how more restaurants should be like it! They were also surprised to hear about the entire Mehta family and their contributions and work :)

How great to have brothers spreading radical love with us!

8. Dev and Vishnu and Chireeng

While all this was going on in the front, there was lots of action happening in the back. Not least of this was being done by our friends Dev, Vishnu, and Chireeng, who were sporting Karma Kitchen tshirts themselves! All of them were in high spirits making naan and sabji for us and had huge smiles on their faces! Dev even started experimenting with new ways to present the naan to the guests (to great success), and as always his tandoori goodness was loved by all.

Dev and Avinash + Dev's new naan style

9. Aiden and Heaven and Dancing

At the community table, Zach started telling me about his transition to a pay-it-forward dance studio. Before, people would view the dance class as a transaction between themselves and the teacher. As such, Zach had a lot of trouble getting the dancers to improvise with each other, since there was no consciousness about the space and the other people around them. He also said that it was considered very taboo for someone to "steal" another person's move. However, when he switched to the pay-it-forward system, everyone suddenly opened up and became conscious of community. Everything Zach had wanted from the space as a teacher became attainable because of the focus on the people and the trust and community rather than the transaction of learning dance.

Two of that day's dancers who had also joined us for lunch were Aiden, a 5 year old, and Hannah, his mother. Both of them were very happy with the meal, and Aiden kept asking for more mango lassi. At some point I gave him a heart pin and he turned to his mom and asked her to pay for it. She looked at me very flustered saying she had no money with her and couldn't do so. When I insisted it was a gift, Aiden beamed to his mom and said "Mom Mom we don't have to pay for it!" Amazing to see a 5 year old so acutely aware of the world around him and also so joyous and grateful with us. Honestly he gave us more than we could ever give him :)

Later after their experience Hannah stopped by again saying that Aiden didn't want to leave without saying bye to us! What kindness!

10. 3 moms and 3 kids

While this was going on, 3 moms and their 3 young kids were at the center table. I went over to the table and started asking them about gratitude, and surprisingly the kids were the first to respond! They started talking about how happy they were their parents took care of them and that they were with their friends on the table. After the meal, one of the kids handed me a card

Another one handed me a drawing

there's something there, I just haven't figured out what :P

The parents reflected as well!

11. Group of 7 w/Berkeley student

A group of 2 families with 7 people were our last customers of the day. They wanted to know more about "how it works" but Praveen and the other volunteers worked their magic and by the end they were in awe of the beauty of gratitude and kindness they were receiving :)

I know this for a fact, because I gave two uncles and two aunties rakhis, then didn't know whether to give the college-age kids what were effectively friendship bracelets (most guys my age are awkward about wearing them and I didn't want to force anything on them). But one of them spoke up and said "Can I be a brother in kindness too?"

hard to see; they're in the back of the photo

12. Happy Birthday to the picture taker

As all things, the day came to an end and we were outside taking our group picture. We started connecting with the person taking our picture and she shared that it was her birthday! So we sang her happy birthday and she was completely blown away. Then she asked to take a picture with us too!


Of course, this is only a fraction of the experience :) All in all, it was a great day of service to 61 people.

take us out, pharrell! 

More pictures:

Some more reflections:

And the obligatory group photo:

--Vishesh on Sep 19, 2014

Jul 28, 2014: When Interns Take Over at Karma Kitchen

We had a remarkable day at Karma Kitchen yesterday, particularly with our teen-age crew that was filled with five ServiceSpace interns, another teen in Akili, and former intern Dillan:

The contagious nature of generosity is how we started and ended. Our first guests heard about Karma Kitchen all the way in Michigan, while our last guest was someone who had never heard about it but after just a short conversation with Bradley was super keen for us to sneak him in before we closed.

And there was so much joy in between. At a community table, people shuffled their seats to accommodate a first time guest who was deaf in one ear. A guest on Dawn's table told her, "I've never seen so many smiling people in a restaurant", while another gratefully wrote on the back of the check: "I never get to order this much in a restaurant and I appreciate how you make this accessible to me."  People wrote artful notes (coming soon to a blog near you!) when Jocelyn approached them to reflect on their greatest teacher of compassion. One couple remarked how the various invitations for engagement really made them feel like we were all "one big family."

A elder professor was so touched by Mira and Priyal's intention behind the hand-made "Wrists to Remind" that he reminded them, "You are the chosen few who have to spread this." Another insisted on offering them $10 that they could pay forward, while a teacher from Canada wanted to replicate that in her school. These were wrist laynards with an inspiring word, carefully researched to match the color of the band, and hand-written art:

"Everyone is so enthusiastic to help everyone else, in almost everything. So much good energy," Kajal said while leading the plating crew and interfacing with our guests. Lisa had a busy load but with all her experience, she still found a way to help other servers, just as Caryn not only helped with plating but also our dishwashing warriors -- Sanjeev and Vishesh. And Priya and Akayli's lemon surprise was one of the favorites of the day! 

Open hearts were everywhere -- including the rice. :) 

Thank you, all, for the smiles through the day and spreading that cheer to the 100+ folks that crossed our path:

--Ram on Jul 28, 2014

Jul 21, 2014: Karma Kitchen Starts in Indonesia!

We were thrilled to start Karma Kitchen in Indonesia this month.  We started the day with a pre-recorded video address by KK founder in Berkeley, and as the day progressed, it led to so many beautiful moments.

As some of you know, we launched Karma Kitchen in Indonesia few weeks ago -- and it was great success. Because it was Ramadan month, we held it as dinner from 6-10PM, on July 5 at Miitem restaurant in Jakarta. We had full house with 200 dinners, served by a committed 25 (very) happy volunteers:

Prior to the event, there was uncertainty but it seemed to dissolve in the spirit of love. We opened with a video from one of the Karma Kitchen founders, and anchored ourselves to practice "growing in generosity". I couldn't have been more inspired by our 25 enthusiastic and happy volunteers:

We had lots of art with values, customized aprons, tablemats that explained the Karma Kitchen's gift cycle, a kindness table with personal (and anonymous) notes in every item that was offered, and more. Goodness was all over. All that generated even more generosity from literal strangers (one of whom even offered to create a short video for us!), as we experienced many unexpected moments of joy -- like one of the volunteers and restaurant owner sharing their birthday, and celebrating it together:

By the end of the day, we had 800USD surplus that will be gifted to the next Karma Kitchen in the region. Let alone Indonesia, there are requests from Singapore, Malaysia and Phillippines. We have also planned to host it in Bali in April. In another beautiful play of serendipity, one of the co-founders of Karma Kitchen Japan heard about us through social media and since she happened to be in Jakarata, she came over. Below is our quick selfie:

My heart is touched to see our growing international family and our shared values of generosity, compassion and inter-connectedness.  Looking forward to spreading more love and light together with all of you.

More photos:

--Stephanie on Jul 21, 2014

Jan 24, 2014: Karma Kitchen Launches in Surat

What started off as a "wild idea" email took a beautiful form on 21 Dec, 2013 when we had the Karma Kitchen at Fountainhead School, Surat.

To say the least, love was in the air!!!! the idea was to practice peer to peer generosity and we actually flexed all our generosity muscles. The results were amazing!

--Shehnaz on Jan 24, 2014

Jan 20, 2014: Karma Kitchen's Fingerprint?

If a stranger walked into Karma Kitchen without knowing anything about it, how long would it be until she suspected that something was out of the ordinary? To make this question more interesting, let's assume that she evaded the maitre d's warm welcome and somehow managed to avoid conversations with volunteers and fellow-guests. Would she have to wait until she got her check for $0 to know that this isn't the average dining experience? Or would she figure it out sooner? This is one of the thoughts that popped up after serving today. I was essentially asking myself "What are Karma Kitchen's most apparent identifying characteristics?" The answer may be different on different days, but today it was unmistakable - there were smiles everywhere. Guests smiled as soon as Keith informed them that they were participating in an experiment in kindness, when they shared their life stories with strangers at the community table, as they listened to musical offerings by Sharanya, Debanjan and Shreya, when they were tagged with unexpected gifts from Audrey and when they received surprise hugs from their servers. Smiles were KK's fingerprint today.

--Chirag on Jan 20, 2014

Dec 31, 2013: Ringing in the New Year KK Style!

We bid farewell to 2013 and welcomed the New Year in style at KK this past Sunday! And there were huge helpings of generosity all around :)

So much transpired that could not have been planned for...There was the proud little girl who lost her first tooth at Karma Kitchen :) There was the table of 10 that tagged Alisa with a beautiful necklace even before she'd taken their orders. There was the man who when asked if he wanted dessert, gestured all around him and said, "This IS my dessert." There was the woman who had planned a big birthday gathering at the local Thai temple only to find out at the gate this morning that they were closed today. A serendipitous sequence of events then led their party of 15 to our door. There were the two chefs from SF who were wowed by the food, but even more so by the spirit behind it. " When you put love into what you do everything changes -- doesn't it?" they reflected. Indeed it does.

Love was definitely in the air when a bouquet of roses was presented to the birthday girl as the whole restaurant sang to her. Love was definitely in the air when a guest exclaimed, "I look forward to Karma Kitchen like a kid looks forward to Christmas! And when an elderly man and his wife who had started their meal complaining about local politics and corporate greed ended it by saying, "Please thank EVERY single person who helps make this place possible. It means the world to us." And when a family of four who had spent more than two hours on the road to experience Karma Kitchen found themselves tagged with peace chains and heart pins. And love was Definitely in the air when one of the volunteers switched a guest's credit card for his own and tagged them by covering their meal (without their knowledge!). We couldn't have asked for a better send-off party for 2013 and we're looking forward to more adventures in generosity in 2014!

--Pavi on Dec 31, 2013

Aug 21, 2013: Berkeley Returns (with a wow!)

Karma Kitchen Berkeley returned with a bang, with guests from all around the bay-area and some serendipitious guests from other countries as well!  Keith and Praveen rallied the troops, while Lalita, Cat and Ayako built up the ambiance, and a full crew of volunteer helped serve over 100 guests.

After a full day of giving unconditionally, busing tables for guests, Pranav noted: "I know I'm young, but it was the best day of my life."

What stole the show, though, was a surprise wedding proposal! Lots of cheers, songs, red roses for random guests, and smiles all around.   The full story is quite amazing actually.

And we piloted a new idea as well.  Prior to the launch, we asked guest to see if they wanted to stay connected after the event.  Over 80 folks responded by saying yes, so we launched five mini events to deepen service ties amongst the KK community.

  • Fruita Gift: Join a one-of-a-kind community in Oakland that grows, gleans and gifts fresh, organic produce to children and families living in  challenging environments. 
  • Green Gulch with Grace: Participate in a circle of sharing with an incredible wounded healer, who is a lifetime student of Zen, a celebrated AIDs physician, and survivor of a devastating accident that left her wheelchair bound but with a spirit that's gloriously unchained.
  • Hear The Homeless: Join a group of volunteers to pay-forward the blessings of love and nourishment to underserved communities at a local soup kitchen, and to simply share presence and stories with people who are all often too easily ignored or avoided. 
  • Eye of the Whale: Join a mini-expedition to the beautiful setting of Monterey to meet with a photographer who has dedicated himself to capturing life-size images of whales, and connecting humans to the wonder, mystery and kinship we have with these beautiful, extraordinary creatures of the ocean. 
Each of these grassroots events will be led and coordinated by a KK volunteer. The hope is that these events will help foster deeper community and interconnection while also giving people opportunities to deepen their values, practice small acts of service, and participate in wisdom circles. 

--Keith on Aug 21, 2013

Jul 25, 2013: Berkeley is Set to Resume!

As you might've heard, Karma Kitchen Berkeley is returning this Sunday!

Same restaurant, same time. Taste of Himalayas, 11AM on Sunday. And the same exuberant space of generosity, paying-it-forward, and connected-ness -- that has now spread to a dozen cities from Japan to India.  This 2-minute video is a good reminder of our space: 

In this iteration, we are starting out with once/month but are trying out some more experiments on building deeper ties amongst KK guests. In particular, if you're planning on coming, please RSVP here and we hope to creatively connect those people in smaller groups before the next Karma Kitchen in August.

We're all super excited, have a few surprises set-up for opening day, and are looking forward to seeing you.

--Praveen on Jul 25, 2013

Jul 10, 2013: June of Abundance at Karma Kitchen DC!

Some comments from guests who felt inspired after Karma Kitchen at Himalayan Heritage on 06/30/2013:

"The smallest and simplest of gestures, such as a free meal, have the ability to inspire in the greatest of ways. Thanks for inspiring me" - A quote from one of the first time guests at Karma Kitchen

"This was WONDERFUL. Met new friends, ate tasty food... We will be paying it forward today, next month, and beyond." - From a group of friends who totally enjoyed their experience, creating ripple effects of the paying it forward principle.

The June edition of Karma marked another milestone in Karma Kitchen's historic journey. A journey of moving, from Transaction to Trust, from Isolation to Community, and most importantly from Scarcity to Abundance.

The day's theme was Abundance, and we could witness it right from the moment our first set of volunteers set foot at Himalayan Heritage, all the way till the last person left the premise after a satisfying day of bringing kindness and cheer to our guests of the day. Some of the first time volunteers understood, absorbed, and radiated the love that Karma Kitchen represents - The kind of love whose abundance grows with more distribution of it. All volunteers not just had a spring in their strides, but also brought their smiles to guests by their warm greetings and service. In addition, they were also willing to step into each other's roles that helped set a gracious tone.

We served about 74 guests. It was very inspiring to see some volunteers who drove all the way from NJ, and Baltimore, keeping their enthusiasm the whole time.

KK DC has been really great place to meet like-minded people, which has been more evident by the happy faces when they meet either a guest or co-volunteers who share the same interest. Like one of the new volunteers Sarah, who had been looking for some food sharing community finds our veteran volunteer Aakruti who has started a Dinner swap group.

In the theme of Abundance it was really great to see how abundance is created in a space like Karma Kitchen. As one volunteer commented, she was amazed how guests were served abundantly and nobody returned without feeling full, physically and spiritually.

--Arvind on Jul 10, 2013

Jul 1, 2013: Karma Kitchen's No Check Policy

[Originally published at In The Capital.]

Imagine a restaurant where there's a no check policy and in its place is an invitation to pay it forward for those that dine after you. Though strangers in line, you're asked to give a contribution as a gift to the person waiting behind you to compensate for their meal. That's what Karma Kitchen is all about, the serving of meals through the generosity of others.

The last Sunday of each month, Karma Kitchen opens up its doors form 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. for those who reside in the D.C. area. While on the outside it appears to be the traditional Himalayan Heritage Restaurant we've all grown accustomed to walking by in Adams Morgan, once you enter you'll find one of the most heartwarming depictions of pure goodness in the District. Smiles, good food, kindred spirits, Karma Kitchen provides for an atmosphere you can't help but want to be around at all times.

Meals at Karma Kitchen are cooked and served by people who believe in the pay it forward ideology. This selflessness exhibited by both servers and consumers "helps to create a future that moves from transaction to trust, from self-oriented isolation to shared commitment, and from fear of scarcity to celebration of abundance." In a city that perpetuates a politically headstrong personality, Karma Kitchen is a welcome breath of fresh air, an initiative that grounds you in a District known for its high-strung drama.

Krishna Desar, one of the co-founders of Karma Kitchen in DC put it best:

"Karma Kitchen is about reminding us that we can come from a space of abundance which cannot be counted by the number of dollars in our pocket, but can only be felt from the warmth in our heart."

Each month brings a new set of guests and volunteers to the table, a unique group of individuals who make the Karma Kitchen experience unforgettable every time. It has already supplied 36,850 meals since it first launched on March 31, 2007 in Berkeley, California and will continue to grow as a self-driven charity-like restaurant for years to come.

With tomorrow, June 30, marking the last Sunday of the month, Karma Kitchen is due to set up shop once again for lunch. I'm going with a couple of my friends, and I advise you to do so as well. If not for the food or to support the mission, then to get yourself out of your comfort zone to realize that there's more to D.C. than the suits and the never ending work days. We too can be a part of a movement dedicated to inspire the spirit of service in others.


Hope to see you there!

--Molly Greenberg on Jul 1, 2013

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