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 subtmit your stories here, particularly as we launch this repository just this week!
Feb 5, 2012: Making Kids Smile
Last week a woman came to @KarmaKitchen with her four young kids, all rather sad and silent. We didn't know why but we took it up as our challenge to make their day; various servers tried different tricks, but nothing worked. Then, Arthur went up and tried, but still nothing ... until he landed upon a genuis question for the kids: "We aren't supposed to do this, but would you like ice-cream before you start the meal?" It jolted everyone out of their sadness. All the kids smiled, the woman also smiled, and by the end of their meal, they all left in good cheer. One small act at a time ...
--Matthew on Feb 5, 2012
Jan 17, 2012: Unite with Laughter, Friends & Love!
--Mani on Jan 17, 2012
Dec 25, 2011: If Happiness Was Your Currency ...
As we served 111 guests yesterday, one thing that particularly stood out for me was how people engaged in small acts of gratitude. A woman gave us a hand-made thank-you card with her own photography, one guest offered a signed copy of her book to Keith, one man visiting KK after a long time insisted on giving me his tie!, another on Nancy's table gifts her a hand-made bracelet, Leena's guest gives her a "You Are Loved" card, another guest gives us a plant that we asked Vishnu-ji (our chef) to pay forward. It was just non-stop gratitude from all sides. :) One of the KK coordinators sent in hand-baked brownies for all volunteers in the back, and while someone else left us chocolates to snack on. :) Across the board, whether is it was Keena-Janice-Li constantly smiling while plating or the unflappable team of Midhun-Kanan-Amy giving Juan a run for the money, :) generosity was abound in our small acts. People abundantly gave out hugs and smiles, as all the guests reflected on the insightful question of the day: "If happiness was our currency, what kind of work would you do?"
Keith went through all the notes and musings that our guests wrote for our theme of the day and said, "I'm blown away by all the responses, let alone the art that accompanied it!"
If happiness were the currency, my work would be ... gardening & juggling & playing fiddle; helping at risk youth climb trees and produce music that uplifts the spirit; become a master pizza-maker; someone who puts their head out of the window when driving in the summer in the country ("A breeze detector"); lead a safari that helps protect the animals and the photographers; bike messenger who doesn't work the AM-shift; organize community, grow food, sing, dance, spend time with babies. Serve @ Karma Kitchen! For happiness I would work growing food, preparing and sharing the hearty healthy food. Aw Yeah! If happiness is currency then working has ceased to exist and thus I only must exist in the happiness with fellow happy humans! Spreading happiness. Playing Music. Helping people feel "that feeling" and the connectedness to the spirit of life and the excitement, energy, love, and appreciation that comes with it. My work would be to grow food, cook it and share it with everyone. Happiness is a currency; each day we're paying people with our energy; as we keep our energy high, we pay each other in happiness all the time.
If happiness was the currency, every place just might be like Karma Kitchen! It elevates people into a heart of gratitude and that ripples of goodness continues onwards without an end.
Thank you, all!
--Keith on Dec 25, 2011
Dec 23, 2011: Giving unconditionally and receiving gracefully
I am fortunate to have been part of the Karma Kitchen team this past Sunday in Berkeley, just before the Christmas holidays. After our shift was over and we sat down to a community (and long awaited) luncheon, I found myself suddenly moved and almost reluctant to go.
The impact to me was strong enough to inspire deeper reflection, and one area I focused on was the concept of giving and receiving. When I compare the experience of Karma Kitchen to my own life experiences, I found a big difference. At Karma Kitchen, we the volunteers were there to give and serve, from our hearts. Thus, whenever giving is so passionate, it requires the recipient to gracefully accept. That is the only way giving and receiving have taken place.
I find this to be lacking in my daily life. Perhaps we are all trained to be so self sufficient that we don't need other people to help or share. Everyone is in their own houses, cooking their own meals, caring for their own children, working their own jobs. There is no community spirit at all.
When I think about my customers on Sunday, I realize that they were all happy to be there, ecstatic when I brought food to the table, and enthusiastic about being part of this experience. I hope they could tell I loved being there and I loved serving them. They accepted with grace.
I suddenly remember a quote from Kirpal Singh that I store in my heart. It goes like this:
Kind hearts are the gardens.
Kind thoughts are the roots.
Kind words are the blossoms.
Kind deeds are the fruits.
If we can remember and respect the wisdom of the ages, and have a place to experience them, then we really can be the change.
Thank you, Karma Kitchen.
--Nancy on Dec 23, 2011
Dec 16, 2011: Restaurant Owner's KK Moment
Last month, a few Karma Kitchen volunteers and I were casually talking to the restaurant owner, Rajen Thapa. He remarks, "I've noticed that Karma Kitchen really changes people, even the creme of the crop at UC Berkeley." We start talking about the vast ripple effect of Karma Kitchen in the local community, and then he adds one of his own.
"Okay, true story. Friday is our busiest night at the restaurant. Last Friday, in the peak of the traffic, our whole computer system crashed. Just like that. The staff panicked. Remembering our four years of Karma Kitchen, I made an announcement: 'Friends, our systems have crashed, we don't know what you've ordered and we can't accept any credit cards. So [raising his hands] you don't have to pay anything. If you have cash, great. Otherwise, please enjoy the meal." People ate, people honored the trust, and people gave. When one guy says, "I'll go back to the ATM and come back. You can keep my iPhone till I return," Rajen responds: "No, no. Just keep your iPhone. We trust you. If you want, come back tomorrow and pay. Or the next week." As he's describing the story, there's a big smile on his face -- which is exactly the reward for such actions.
It turned out that trusting the generosity of others was even more profitable than his other nights. Go figure. :)
--Maitre-D :) on Dec 16, 2011
Dec 12, 2011: Human-to-Human Conversation
Early in the day, during my volunteer shift at Karma Kitchen, an elder woman came in -- she might have been the first guest -- and was seated in the far corner. After her server had greeted her and given her water and a mango lassi, I tagged her with a handmade smile button.
She hadn't smiled much, but she did smile for a second when seeing the button. I asked if she'd like me to pin it on her lapel and she said no, that she would "fix" it when she got home. I visited her two other times -- she was there for quite a long time, perhaps 1 1/2 hours.
On my third visit, I asked her if she knew that the theme of the day was Smile. She said she didn't smile much ... that smiles needed to be genuine. Thus began a conversation that roved around from authentic smiles to the politics of the day. I listened a lot but I also engaged in conversation. I especially did not try to get her to smile. I let her be herself. We talked for a fairly long time, then I had to get back to work. The restaurant was busy.
A little later in the day, I had a similar experience with a man. During check in, I commented that I had engaged with two people who dined alone and seemed to be in a dark place.
In both cases I felt we'd connected and had a real human-to-human conversation. The volunteer sitting next to me asked if one of them was the white-haired lady in the corner. I said yes and she said that the woman never talks to anyone.
Later, as we were readying to leave, the volunteer who was the server for that woman gave me a "You Are Loved" card and said that the white-haired woman, on her way out of the restaurant, asked her to give it to me.
--Marianna on Dec 12, 2011
Nov 23, 2011: Greg's First Time at Karma Kitchen
Last Sunday was Greg's first time at Karma Kitchen. While dining with a large table-of-nine group, he casually comments that he loves the Karma Kitchen t-shirt sported by his server. True to KK tradition, we arrange to tag him with an extra tee that we had in the back! Of course, there's no charge since it is a gift. And somehow, this is the tipping point that just blows him away.
Almost immediately, he opens up his backpack and takes out two fifty dollar gift-cards for EBay and says, "Well, I'd like to gift this to Karma Kitchen." Wow. Really. Excited volunteers decide to step it up even further. "Instead of KK, what if you just gift it to two random tables in the restaurant, right now?" they ask Greg. He loves the idea but is uneasy about making the gift himself, so we make an easier proposition: "How 'bout two volunteers deliver it to two tables, and you can anonymously observe?" Everyone is all smiles about that idea.
Sure enough, two volunteers approach two unknown tables and explain: "At Karma Kitchen, we often tag people with small gifts. And people's cup of gratitude often overflows. We don't always know where that'll overflow but just now, someone in the restaurant gifted us this $50 gift card to give away to a KK guest. So this is for you. Please pay it forward as you are moved."
A couple on one table is just visibly stunned, as one of them puts a hand on her heart with teary eyes; on the other table, a mother decides to use it to teach her six-year-old (also on the table) about generosity. The energy on both of those tables is palpably elevated, as Greg and his whole table watch from a distance.
Generosity has done its magic again.
An unconditional gift always begets another gift. Here's to more than 20,000 volunteer hours that have kept Karma Kitchen alive as a context to practice that kind of generosity!
--NM on Nov 23, 2011
Nov 10, 2011: What Makes You Smile?
What a grand showing at KK today with 144 guests!At one point, perhaps 25 people were waiting outside and a couple unsuspectingly walks up -- they are quite taken aback by the Karma Kitchen ideal of paying forward and can't believe that everyone in the restaurant was trusted to do that. They put their name on the waitlist. About ten minutes later, in the middle of the crowd, he comes up to me and tucks away a crumpled up twenty-dollar bill in my hands, gives me a hug and whispers in my ear, "We have to rush today but just wanted to pay forward for someone anyways." Not only was I touched, but even all those around us.Right after, Katie ended up singing a remarkable song with her guitar, that hold the whole restaurant chanting, "You and I are one." What a powerful vibe. It is somehow in those unchoreographed moments of reflection that the power of all this becomes so evident. In one corner of the restaurant are seniors who will pay from meager social security checks; in another are students, and professionals, and entrepreneurs (and parents of volunteers :)). Such diversity. Yesterday, we even had a co-founder of PayPal amongst us, for the first time. At the door, after understanding the spirit of KK, he tells us: "You wouldn't believe it, but I just received an act of generosity! I was taking the bus here and I didn't have any change except fresh twenties from the ATM. The woman behind me just paid for me, without saying anything. I was so taken back. Then I thought of giving her a twenty as a thank-you but before that she had already left." He ate at KK, smiled big, and deepened his resolve to carry forward the spirit.Servers asked guests to reflect on what makes them smile ... and guests beautifully wrote things like: chasing my pets around the house; playing music for people; seeing the people I love, even after a long time; connecting with community; Mango Lassis; sunday conversations; Muppets; sitting with my wife; seeing other people healthy and happy; all the people around me right now; new places, new faces; thunder and lightning; freckles on friends; humans; Karma Kitchen! sitting on the ghats of the ganges in Varanasi; a good meal with new friends; knowing that everything will be o-k; teddy bears; kissing roses; warm sun; my brother and my mom; moments of sharing.Thank you all, for creating such a beautiful context, to have these ripples spread in infinite directions.
--Maitre-D :) on Nov 10, 2011
Oct 25, 2011: Connectedness
--MJ on Oct 25, 2011
Oct 13, 2011: Feeling More Joy and Hope For the Future
[Below is a republished blog entry by a first time KK-Chicago volunteer.]
On Sunday morning, after watching the start of the Chicago Marathon on TV, Mike and I hopped on the Brown Line to Merchandise Mart, for a very important commitment. The train was crowded with people traveling to various points in the race to cheer on their friends, and it certainly wasn’t easy crossing the street to get where we were going!
Nevertheless, we arrived just in time for our scheduled volunteer shift at the Karma Kitchen!
Karma Kitchen is a place that fosters Kindness, Joy, Generosity, and Trust, through the concept of “Pay it Forward”. Visitors to the Karma Kitchen will receive a delicious vegetarian meal, served by volunteers, and gifted to them by those who dined before them. At the end of the meal, diners receive a check for $0.00 and an invitation to continue the circle of generosity by paying it forward for future diners. Guests can anonymously leave any amount, or even pay it forward in other ways such as by signing up to volunteer, helping with dishes, or by going up to the microphone and singing a song.
Karma Kitchen Chicago is held the second Sunday of every month at the beautiful Klay Oven Indian Restaurant, starting at 12pm, with the last seating at 2:45pm.
As volunteers, Mike and I were asked to arrive at 10:30am for an orientation and lunch prior to the restaurant opening. During our orientation, we learned the history & philosophy of the Karma Kitchen in addition to what we’d need to know for our tasks.
The Karma Kitchen Philosophy
While any surplus of funds would go to area charities, Karma Kitchen isn’t about the money. They simply have a goal to self-fund the project. While the benefits that Karma Kitchen provides to society aren’t monetary – they are plentiful. Karma Kitchen represents a gift economy – where services are given without any strings attached. The intent is to increase trust, improve relationships, and build community, which I truly felt in my experience there. “At its core, gift-economy is a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance, and isolation to community.”
The meals served at the Karma Kitchen are delicious Indian cuisine that is 100% vegetarian, with a number of vegan options, as noted on the chalkboard with a (v). And don’t worry – while the rest of the Karma Kitchen staff is volunteers, the chefs are hired professionals.
Meals are served “Thali Style” which means diners get to try a little bit of everything on the menu! The menu last Sunday included the following – (going Clockwise from 12′o clock on the picture below):
- Jeera Aloo (v) – Spicy potatoes
- Hing Dal (v) - a lentil stew
- Raita - a yogurt sauce which helps to cut the heat in the other dishes
- Sabzi Pakora (v) - a fritter of deep fried assorted veggies in chickpea flour (my favorite dish of the day)
- Naan - fresh, soft bread. (Vegans can substitute Roti instead)
- Kheer - a sweet rice pudding dessert (delicious!)
- Vegetable Jalfreezi (v) - a very spicy stew of green peppers & tomatoes (another favorite of mine!)
- Palak Paneer - Spinach with Paneer Cheese
- Vegetable Biryani - a Rice pilaf in the center of the plate
Not pictured, Chai Tea and Mango Lassi (a mango & yogurt drink) were offered as beverages.
Although this was a lot of food, it was delicious and I cleared my plate very quickly!
After lunch, it was time to get to work! The group of volunteers was split up into various tasks including Hosts and Servers in the front of the house and Dishwashers (yes, really) and Food Platers in the back of the house. As first-time volunteers, Mike and I were given the opportunity to be Servers so that we could interact with the Customers and get the full Karma Kitchen experience.
I’ve never waitressed before in my life, so I was very nervous! Thankfully the “Thali Style” ordering made it easy – guests “ordered by exclusion” telling us only what they didn’t want – and we brought out everything else. We also each only had 4 tables assigned to us. I actually very much enjoyed waitressing, although it gave me a true respect for restaurant servers that probably have 2 – 3 times the workload I experienced during my shift!
Getting into the Spirit
To truly inspire joy and foster a sense of community, Karma Kitchen integrates it’s message throughout the experience in several other ways.
Each table in the restaurant had a notebook on it so that in addition to paying it forward, guests could also leave messages to future diners.
This was an actual message I found in one of the notebooks:
“I hope you enjoy my gift of kindness, it was truly a pleasure to pass this onto you. Enjoy your meal and continue to spread the love.”
There was also a table at the front full of books, movies, music, and crafts that anyone could browse and take. There were no prices on any items, but just like the food, guests could pay it forward however they wished, perhaps by dropping a contribution in the box, or writing in their name on the volunteer sign up sheet.
Lastly – my favorite part – every month there is a different theme at Karma Kitchen and an activity to go along with the theme. Since October 2nd was Gandhi’s birthday, the October theme centered around one of his most famous quotes: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Tying into that theme, guests and volunteers alike were encouraged to think about how they planned to be the change, and write it down on a piece of paper for displaying.
I truly had a wonderful time at Karma Kitchen, and left feeling more joy and hope for the future. I love the positive message embodied by Karma Kitchen, and I sincerely hope that message spreads!
In what ways do you plan to Be the Change?
Bonus Image: At a place as full of heart as Karma Kitchen, even their potatoes show it!
--Diana on Oct 13, 2011
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