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KK DC Restarts Again!

After a hiatus, we just re-launched Karma Kitchen last weekend in DC! Aya, Kat and the local gang was excited. The week before, all the volunteers came together to settle the logistics, gathered up all the supplies and brainstormed ways to spread love. We knew that one of the founders of KK was going to be in town, but it was a very happy surprise to see Amit, Ashish and Manal also come down from New York!

We opened the morning with a circle of sharing, in the orientation. A teenager shared a story of stopping to pray for deer killed on the road, another spoke about receiving a ride from a stranger, Kristin blew bubbles to spread cheer, past volunteers like Sateen recalled their experiences, another volunteer spoke about paying forward for a Subway sandwich the night before. Most of us were sporting our Karma Kitchen tees. The restaurant owners, for whom this was the first time hosting the restaurant, also joined us. Aya, who has been a volunteer for dozens of Karma Kitchen, would later remark that the opening circle was a deeply transformative one for her -- and reconnected her to why she serves at KK!

As the door opened, it was a great thrill. We served the trickle of guests coming in, got our logistics in gear, before the restaurant got buzzing. On the side was our makeshift kindness table -- from heart pins to Smile Cards to works & conversation to many small gifts. Each table had a unique quote, alongside a Karma Kitchen menu, and smiling volunteer servers. As guests left, we gave them all small plants to "plant seeds".

In such a context, ripple effect is very natural. Conversations are different. A guest asked one of the volunteers, "Do you think this spirit can be applied to law?" That led to the story of a compassionate judge. Another guest was visiting from Los Angeles, and wants to start something there. Yet another started opening up his career transition, while another guest wondered about serving locally.

Ashish's 14-year-old daughter came up and hugged another volunteer. Why? "I'm just in a hugging kind of mood." Later, Ashish posted this haiku:

Tree, keen to give shade,
saw its seeds blossom instead,
humbled yet again.

Outside, bunch of volunteers were doling out free hugs on the streets while others were holding banner that read, "Honk if you believe in the power of love!"

In the closing circle, there was a strong feeling of kinship. Even the restaurant manager and owner expressed deep gratitude. With that gratitude, we hope to continue the ripple every month.

As for me, I was tagged with this small Hershey's kisses box, signed by Barack Obama. It was intended for my kids, but in the spirit of Karma Kitchen, I gave it to my friend's daughter -- who is terminally ill, cannot stand on her own, but is a huge fan of Obama. She was so happy to receive it, and so was I. Just like Karma Kitchen, in making others smile, we are left with a smile ourselves.

Honk, if you believe in the power of love. :)

--Krishna on Apr 28, 2016

A Micro-Moment Filled Karma Kitchen!

What a gift to be at Karma Kitchen on the once-every-four-years day when February 28th is the second to last day of the month! From start to finsih, our circle of 14 volunteers quickly transformed into a humming team that collectively served 110 guests!

With an enthused crowd streaming in at 11AM, we hit the ground running as Rezwan jumped right into his first table of nine guests! Mimi instantly embodied her "savior" role-- finding the missing forks and filling in all gaps with a never-fading smile!  Jon kept all his tables beaming as he serendipitously ran into multiple acquaintances, as Eva and Brandon zigzagged the restaurant, clearing tables and delivering orders with Olympian agility!

At any given moment, so many micro moments of care were transpiring before us. When a guest's cup of gratitude overflowed into a Rumi poem performance, Eva stepped-up the goodness by inviting our poetic performer to lead us in a "Happy Birthday" song for one young man who came with his parents. Shortly after, without skipping a beat, the birthday boy's mother nudged their elegant cake into my hands and said, "This is for all of you volunteers!" It made me think-- if I had walked into any regular restaurant, it would be highly unlikely that a random guest would instantly share her birthday cake with a bunch of strangers. But on this day, in this way, were were family. They had come at a peak hour, had never heard of Karma Kitchen, and the only seats available were at the corner of the Community Table. Yet something about the spirit in the air, and perhaps the intention to simply grow in generosity, with no strings attached, lit a spark in their eyes, and a down-to-earthness in their hearts that made it so easy to connect, so humbling to remember how we are all in this thing called life together, often in ways that don't meet the eye.

Meanwhile, behind the counter, our interface Vishesh did everything (though he claims to have "done nothing"). And in the kitchen, Zeenia transformed the swirling stream of orders into love-in-action while Navina and Cathy poured endless goodwill into each plate that went out.  Karen and Tiffany made art out of an assortment of delectable desserts (including one guest's offering of homemade cupcakes)!  On top of it all, Jerry's dedicated attention to detail and Saourubh's can-do attitude invisibly grounded our whole team as their high-quality dishwashing kept us going strong!

Even after our closing circle, everyone's collective energy made for an effortless clean-up that left the restaurant shining. As the last few pots were soaped and put through the sanitizer, one volunteer (who'd been our star dishwasher the whole day!) noted, "I should do this more at home." Me too, I thought.

Whether in the form of dishes, or serving up food, or simply finding small ways to make someone smile-- the spirit of generosity is contagious, and I'm left with a simple pull to do this more at home. :)

--Maitre-D on Feb 29, 2016

New Video, Research and 22 Locations!

Dear Karma Kitchen Friends,

Thank you for all your continued support of Karma Kitchen.  We're just sending along a few updates ...

A volunteer group from Taiwan, Tzu Chi, put together a beautiful video piece that is bound to make you smile: Paying it Forward

Karma Kitchen has now run in 22 locations around the globe, and mushroomed into many related experiments. In November, KK piloted in the UK and is set to repeat in London this month. Similarly, the second KK is about to happen in Dubai. In India, it continues to ripple into quite a few experiments. Detroit had powerful moments in their debut last year, and just a few weeks back, after a launch in Guernsey, a kindness movement is gripping the entire island.

Renowned researchers are also taking note. We've always been speaking about the subtle but significant difference between pay-what-you-want and pay-forward, and here are some slides that summarize the scientific studies behind it. Many have asked about best practices in embodying these "gift ecology" principles, and that has led to a launch of a popular Laddership Circles program.

It's a great joy to be part of this movement together, to collectively practice "growing in generosity".

In service,

Karma Kitchen Anchors

--Sima on Jan 30, 2016

A Shining Septemer Karma Kitchen!

Whether plating food, washing dishes, taking orders or simply offering a listening ear and presence -- it was incredible to witness the micro-moments of love that endlessly transpired as our rockstar crew smilingly served 67 guests from all walks of life-- vibrant artists and transformative lawyers, international students, down-to-earth teachers, inspired businessfolk, and beyond.

In each moment, small acts of care enveloped us from all sides. One guest walked in with offerings of a handpicked bouquet, chocolates, and handmade stones. Two members of the community baked offerings of raspberry tart and chocolate chip cookies to add to our dessert menu -- simply to give in some way.

Our mostly first-time crew of volunteers stepped up the generosity in subtle and profound ways. With Xiao gently tagging folks with heart pins at every turn, Raku's depth of presence in conversing with each table, Ron's steady can-do spirit, Saina's swift setting of each table and filling in of any gap, Zilong's mastermind interfacing and delightful moon cake, Brenda's artistry both on paper and in each plate arranged with a glowing heart, Nina skyrocketing through the plating learning curve and thoughtfully making sure everyone ate, Ivina's mastery of "all the D's" - drinks, desserts, dal, and beyond :), Anna's superhuman dish-washing resilience, and Vishesh's kitchen guidance coupled with way of making dishes and people shine -- as one of us shared in the closing reflections, it was as if we were all atoms supporting the whole and filling in wherever necessary!

Then, on top of the usual Karma Kitchen emergence, it was doubly grand to witness the depth of our ServiceSpace Community Table conversations, as well as to learn about some dynamic pay-it-forward research! And even after our closing circle, everyone's collective energy made for an effortless clean-up that left the restaurant sparkling!
The breezy air of early evening welcomed us as we said our goodbyes and dispersed in our various directions on Shattuck Avenue. What a whirlwind experience. Can't think of a better way to spend a supermoon lunar eclipse Sunday! :)

Here are more pictures of the day.

--Maitre-D on Sep 28, 2015

At the Pink Flamingo in Detroit :)

My heart is overflowing with gratitude and love as I reflect on our the first Karma Kitchen in Detroit -- and how its generosity touched so many of the Detroiters. Everyone not only accepted it whole heartedly, they reciprocated with loads of love and generosity!

In so many ways, Detriot is in its lowest period of many decades, but with collective blessings from around the globe (quite literally, many states of America, India, Canada, UK and more) we made a huge love impact in our local community!

Just two days before our pilot launch, someone anonymously sent us t-shirts with Karma Kitchen logo! At one point, we realized we didn't have any posters or sign boards. On Wednesday, three young girls from Albania walked in for our Awakin Circle, were touched the spirit of evening, heard the cross reference of Karma Kitchen and out of the blue, one of them asked, "Do you need posters made? My brother has a print shop!" Wow! Our need was heard. I was shocked and touched at the same time to receive this gift! To top it off, those three young girl signed-up to volunteer! (And boy, they were like angels -- some of us oldies really ended up needing the young blood to help us!) We didn't know much about social media, but Renee (who came to our Awakin Circle through Nimo) did all of our writing, printing and even created an Event on Facebook! :) She became our spokesperson. Similarly, Janet helped with dessert and decorations. With his restaurant business experience, Harry volunteered to anchor the kitchen. My ever supportive husband, Bharat, was a huge pillar. Meiko, founder of Pink Flamingo, supported us in every way. Renee's husband signed up to help at the wash station. Everyone just came together like that. It was almost as if a song of generosity was being played, and people just responded in perfect rhythm.

On the day of Karma Kitchen, the forecast for the evening was ... thunderstorm! :( Our was an outdoor event. :) But we still kept preparing and thinking positive. And guess what? Nature gifted us with most gorgeous, beautiful evening! Initially, we were thinking that 30-35 guests might come, but with the rain forecast, perhaps just half of them! Still we kept serving without attachment to the outcomes. Joy is in the giving, right? By 8:30PM, we had served 50 people!!!! Ammmmmazing response! We almost ran out of food!!

I personally had the honor of cooking some Indian food myself! I was remembering cooking with Harshida-ben in Santa Clara, and her open, positive, loving nature and passion to serve others -- and it helped me cook the best meal ever! The best compliment I heard was, "The food had an extra ingredient today, that made it so delicious. And that secret ingredient was LOVE!" Love was in the air.

Oh, and there was actually one other amazing thing.

As I was unloading the food from my car, a small pick up truck slowly inched towards us. Now, Pink Flamingo is in a rough neighborhood of Detroit, so I got a little nervous. But then, 3 young men got out of the truck -- with baskets and baskets of apples! It turned out that they saw a tree overloaded with apples, so they decided to pluck the apples and merrily give it away to people. Hearing their story, I was almost in tears. I asked them to join for dinner, and they did. It completed the full circle of giving. It was an incredibly heart warming moment.

Throughout the day, we answered questions on Karma Kitchen, shared about ServiceSpace, introduced Smile Cards and thanked everyone for the opportunity to serve. Guests were totally blown away as we handed them with $0.00 bill with hand-made ceramic key chain as a momento! :) It was a beautiful day. People hugged, many hung out till the end, many new connections were made over kindness, some wanted to volunteer next time, and practically everyone was awaiting the next Karma Kitchen!

Here are some photos from the day.

So much grace in accepting the gift and generously paying it forward with love. Thank you Detroit!! And thank you, all, for the encouragement to experiment in this way. I would've never imagined that we could've pulled this off in Detriot, but I probably should stop being surprised by the power of love to create miracles. :)  

--Nilam on Sep 20, 2015

Tzu Chi Video on Karma Kitchen

Last month, some of our friends from Taiwan's Tzu Chi organization visited Karma Kitchen in Berkeley. Here's their beautiful video about it ...

--B2 on Sep 17, 2015

Cultivating Community In Chicago

Chicago is a city built on resilience. From great fires to brutal winds, Chicagoans have remained tenacious in making this city a better place. This unyielding loyalty creates a strong foundation of hope in this city, encouraging its’ people to take chances and push limits.

So it's of no surprise what amazing things can flourish here when people are brought together. After some months of planning, ‚ÄčKarma Kitchen Chicago relaunched this past March planting seeds of generosity, kindness, and service in a community already so deeply rooted in love. A few snowflakes couldn't hinder the blooming spirit of service within the colorful walls of our restaurant partner -- Naansense. Volunteers quickly transformed the space into a botanical oasis, creating community tables decked with smile cards, inspirational quotes, and intention stations asking guests to find the ways they have been inspired by anothers' service. The Naansense team went above and beyond, handcrafting a special vegetarian menu which consisted of a savory 3 course meal followed up by a flour-less chocolate cake and pistachio ice cream that made every guest swoon with delight. Guests were invigorated with a sensory overload from the moment they stepped inside- from the soulful sounds of our guest performer,Gira Dahnee, to the aroma of fresh naan baking in the tandoor, to the sight of sunshine pouring in on flowered tables, to the feeling of fresh soil between fingertips as guests were asked to plant physical seeds in honor of the intentions they set for the new season. Guests were truly submerged in the spirit of Spring and its spirit of new beginnings. 

With such a small space, we weren't sure what to expect. If no one showed up, what would we do? Yet, like always, Karma Kitchen provided us all with subtle reminders in the power of love. Former "super" fans showed up and brought friends. Strangers walked in and quickly became friends. Guests and volunteers filled the "Before I Die" wall with ambitious dreams. Even more subtle- observing a mother's delight over her picky-eating child trying something new, perfect strangers off the street being embraced for a "family" meal, or the delight of a young family who happened to be strolling by and didn't have time to eat, yet were able to experience the joy of surprises with gifts from the kindness table--the entire  day was filled with small moments of great kindness. [More photos on our FB page.]

Like any flourishing garden, it takes some pruning and planning to create the best environment for abundance. While these seeds of service were planted in Chicago long ago, the challenge remains in finding the best ways to allow the spirit of generosity, compassion and inter-connection to grow organically. Cultivating a sense of community takes time, but planting seeds with love is a great way to start. Karma Kitchen Chicago is excited to see what grows!

--Roshni on Apr 10, 2015

Fueled by the Spirit of Generosity

Karma Kitchen was a real remarkable experience this month!  With a rockstar crew of 14 volunteers, we served a total of 95 guests in a high-energy yet "stress-free" (as one volutneer called it) day of enthused tables and many-to-many conversations in a first ever configuration of 5 rotating community tables! :) So many stories emerged from each face that walked in. From a powerful embodiment of restorative justice, to a recent college grad who biked across the US to expand his worldview, a remarkable scientist-turned-healer, two families that spent the morning gifting people lemonade, and two guys who came to simply eat lunch, and ended up brainstorming how they can shine more kindness into their week-- lots of ripples unleashed in umpteen directions, and all thanks to everyone's full-of-heart service and spirit of generosity!

As Eri noted in our closing volunteer circle, it's amazing how the same work can feel so different when fueled by a labor-of-love!

And what a labor-of-love crew of volunteers! From Carol's dedicated superwoman dishwashing to Kevin's all around service--from dishes to busing tables to filling water for guests, Hannah and Candace's artful drinks and desserts, Xiao and Cathy's diligent plating, savior Samy's showing up to gift flowers or bus tables or serve guests, Eri and Shefali's amazing first-time deep dive in serving tables with an effortless organized chaos type of teamwork, Michelle's endless enthusiasm (and even staying til the very end to sweep the floor sparkling clean), Eugenia's grace in floating across all avenues of the restaurant, Bradley's multifaceted veteran interfacing and filing in all the details and baking of delicious rhubarb crisp, and Kozo's soulful service from coming early to setup to bringing blank puzzles as gifts to mindfully serving each table-- the spirit of service is alive and well in downtown Berkeley this Sunday! :)

And stunning photos from our resident budding photographer, Tejas.

--Maitre-D on Mar 30, 2015

A Day of KK Gifts: From Impromptu Hip-Hop to 4-year-old's Lollipop!

With a crew of 10 volunteers, we served a total of 68 guests, including a local hip-hop artist who dazzled us with his flute-rap-poetry, and a magazine editor-in-chief who tagged our Kindness Table with a hefty stack of his latest edition! Again and again, we witnessed the power of small acts with great love. At the start of the day, Kozo brought bubbles and animal figurines to gift to kids while they wait. On his way out, 4-year-old Justin tagged an incoming first-time guest with a treasured lollipop. Another guest walked in and headed straight to the Kindness Table to gift-forward a dozen sand dollars that she collected herself along a local beach shore.

And our rock solid team of volunteers really anchored the house! Thao's can-do attitude kept the flow of food to guests in an artful rhythm with her first-time veteran interfacing! And each visit into the kitchen found it humming in perfect harmony-- with Mindy and Prithvi plating with such gentle, delight and care, Cathy jumping right in to mix up a simple syrup concoction and dishing up a steady stream of sweetness, and Kozo, who's practices of humility infused the kitchen with a steady stillness of heart-- and who never stopped smiling after a full 7 hours of nonstop industrial-level dishwashing! Then, on the front-end, our servers were shining lights-- as Benson's handwritten quote found its way to a family who were moved to gift him a book, Wendy's nonstop grace-in-action kept her gliding all around the restaurant, Perla's smiling spirit carved the way for connective conversations, and Chris embodied the "savior" role-- stepping in to bus tables, take orders, deliver food, gifts, dishes, and everything in between!

At the end of the day, the crew echoed a joy in having an opportunity to give and serve in such genuine ways.

--Maitre-D on Feb 22, 2015

All Smiles At Karma Kitchen

I heard about it through a KindSpring 21-day challenge. My frat at college told us about it. I've been here five times before. I was sick this morning, but I didn't want to miss KK. I originally came here to research about it, several years ago. I'm coming from Stanford today. I just moved from India and I had heard about it there. My girlfriend told me about it.

Just the convening of such diverse Karma Kitchen volunteers is inspiring. For the next six hours, dozen of us would come together as a team, and turn a routine dining experience into one of generosity -- for over 100 guests.

It fills you in a way that very few things can.

Guests are all smiles, simply in seeing a full-house where everyone is engaged in an experiment in trust and generosity. Quite organically, it changes the nature of the conversations too. On one side, two college students starting up a project to "raise empathy" by encouraging people to have conversations with the homeless. On another side, a table of four is learning about the journey of their server -- who biked all the way from Massachusetts to California, while learning about the kindness of strangers along the way. On another table of two, that have waited 40 minutes to get seated, a couple engages with the theme-of-the-day: intention. When the whole restaurant converged to sing happy-birthday for one of the guests, a mother-son waiting outside decided to do their own act of kindness -- they wrote a random letter of appreciation as the six-year-old approached the birthday girl: "You don't know me, but this is my wish for your birthday." Volunteers themselves could feel the buzz, as they got hugs and smiles, and even one thank-you letter! In small ways, acts of kindness were everywhere. Bradley brought some glasses on which kids could write their intention-of-the-day in chalk -- and then got to keep the glasses as a keepsake! A guest brought in flowers for volunteers, which got distributed into single flowers that were gifted to random guests; in response to the inevitable to the thank-you, volunteer responded: "Well, technically, this isn't from us. It's from someone who came before you, and just wanted to make a stranger smile. Tag you're it. Keep the ripple going, and pay it forward."

Everyone tries to go over the top, with love. And it creates the kind of magic that can be seen in these smiles, even after a full day of work:

--Nipun on Jan 26, 2015

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