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.


Mar 30, 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

Feb 22, 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

Jan 26, 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

Dec 30, 2014: Renewing in Generosity, on the Last Sunday of 2014!


What a joy to witness yesterday's invigorating Karma Kitchen! We served a total of 68 guests in a New Year's 'renewal'-themed day! From our 9am ready-to-go setup crew that rocked the KK ambiance in record time, to the enthused resonance of our first guest and friend of Alisa, who couldn't stay to eat, but whose enthused resonance blew us away with her cup-overflowing insistence to pay-it-forward in several forms.

Then, the day got underway as Mia, Alisa, and Ed stepped-up their service with super thoughtful attention, endless gifts, and genuine presence. Raha and B2 transformed flower bouquets into heartfelt sidewalk art, making a heart 'rangoli' with love at the center. And they were the restaurant's nonstop floating saviors, clearing tables and offering an extra hand, smile, gift, or listening ear! Bradley and Carol's KK service started in their own kitchen, baking up a storm of sweetness in banana bread and chewy sugar cookie form, which Lynette (who left her home at 7:30am to come out today) so gracefully arranged on dessert plates and whose collective love was felt by all! Prit and Carol dazzled us with their veteran first-time plating in the back, as Markus and Pavi were the steady backbone to the whole operation, constantly scrubbing dishes a-glow with their labor-of-love spirit of service! And to top it off, several volunteers who weren't able to join in person still dazzled the days of many guests who received their lovingly handmade holiday treat bags!

From start-to-finish, the minutes slipped past us, engrossed in conversation, heartfelt connection, and micro moments of beauty. And the depth of intention behind such a space reflects back from all angles. One guest came in, walked out, and came back 15 minutes later with a gift of 3 bright bouquets of flowers! Lynett then multiplied the love by artfully arranging the graceful blooms on dessert plates for each guest to enjoy. As the day wound down, floors were swept, dishes cleared, and all of us turning to trickle out the restaurant doors, Carol opened up the vibrant bouquet of flowers that was gifted to her with along with a birthday song, and handed a stem to each person in sight!

Thank you, for spending your holiday season Sunday nurturing such down-to-earth moments of gratitude, abundance, beauty and joy!

More photos from the day ...

--Audrey on Dec 30, 2014

Nov 20, 2014: KK Gets Covered in Spanish!

A Spanish reporter wrote an article on Zen restaurants for a magazine (BuenaVida of El País), and it featured Karma Kitchen!



And thanks Cecilia, another volunteer, we have a translation in English:

"That passion to create a better world was also the origin of Karma Kitchen Experiment, which takes place one Sunday a month at Taste Of The Himalayas, in Berkley, California. What is truly peculiar? That the total amount of the check comes up to zero dollars. There is no other reason than promote generosity.  The amount is zero because, someone previously has paid for your food. And at the end of your lunch you also have the opportunity to do the same to the ones that come ahead of you. Whatever is the quantity you want to offer, explains Sima Sanghvi, project organizer. The goal is to create a solidarity chain that changes collective conscience. “We don’t know who has paid for our food previously or who serves our food in an altruistic form –waiters and cooks are volunteers-, or for Whom we are paying the food.  Including them in our generosity circle we get to pass little by little from the culture of mine and possession to the philosophy of ours” affirms Sima.  Customer’s reaction? Many. Some end up crying with emotion, and others like CEO’s of big corporations, get register to volunteer in the kitchen."

--Praveen on Nov 20, 2014

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

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