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Joyful Collaboration in 'Harmony'


Last Sunday, I enjoyed my first opportunity to volunteer with the wonderful group of folks that bring together & create Karma Kitchen each Sunday in Berkley, CA.  Our day together started with a circle that brought us into the present moment, supported us in creating a space where heart, mind & spirit are acknowledged and welcomed us into our greatest potential for sharing gratitude.  The heart-centered teamwork allowed the busy afternoon to flow seamlessly in ways that were remarkable for a group of people that just met one another only hours earlier.  Our theme was Harmony, and we asked diners to add their thoughts from lines of songs, or quotes that resonated for them.  The spontaneous creative expression was a special gift indeed!  Here is a sample of the notes that were collected throughout the day:
Radical of inclusion and transparency of conflict"
"And as I rise above the tree lines and the clouds I turn round to hear the sound of the things you said today"
"In your eyes, I see galaxies and planets that are drifting by"
"I used to visit all the very gay places, those come what may places, where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life, to get the feel of life" 
Lush Life ~ Bill Strayhorn
"The intolerant brightness of your charms" ~ e.e. cummings
"Our beliefs shape the way we look upon the world and the world, through our experience, shapes and tests our beliefs."
with a drawn "Infinity  8  Spiral"
"Applause, Applause Life is Our Cause!" ~ Joni Mitchell
"When I step into the water - goes up to my toes to my ankle to my head to my soul -
I'm blown away." 
~ Dave Matthews
"Harmony is the balance where everything fits in together. It's like having a great park in the city where you can hear the birds and nature but then be back in civilization in a jiffy and vice-versa."
"Live and Let Live"
"If you make someone's day, that will make them happy to do the same for someone else."
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
"We all share the same planet, the only one we have."
"Dance if you want to. Dance like no one's around."
"I surrender to whatever fate has waiting for me. I accept the next page of my life with open hand, open eyes, open ears & an open heart."
"I have both wisdom and love and believe that they both have me.  Anger can grab yet has less hold on me, Peace Love & Understanding is All, All All."
I want to be with you
And make believe with you
And live in harmony
Hold on"
"Can you feel the love tonight?
The peace the evening brings.
The world for once is perfect harmony with all its living things."
"Natural Living with Nature"
"Believe in truth that lives inside you!"
"Thank you for healing me.
Thank you for loving me.
Thank you for staying with me"
"...when I listen to this song, I become happy & smile."
"I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in."
"Harmony is a state of being, a sound, a way forward.  Anyway you look at it, HARMONY feels good! And it brings us closer to ONENESS,
which we already are one."
"H-A-R-M-O-N-Y . . .
 Healing ~ Awareness ~ Release ~ Meditation
~Openness ~ Nurturing ~ Yes"
"It is one of the most beautiful compensation of life that no man sincerely try to help another without helping himself"  ~ Emerson

--Barbara Gerke on Aug 3, 2010

What Brings You to Karma Kitchen?

What brings you to Karma Kitchen? A sense of community, smiling faces of all the volunteers, compassion, the “ambiance,” and were some of the answers. :)

One of the core strengths of Karma Kitchen lies in the commitment of the wonderful volunteers (just check out the picture) :) who create that atmosphere that so many guests value. While it is never the same group of volunteers twice, I am always left with the feeling of camaraderie and warmth at the end.

The theme-of-the-day was JOY, and it was certainly a joyous volunteering experience. Here are some highlights:

•    Arthur led the battalion on all fronts this week. His infectious yet silent demeanor set the tone. Started off giving an orientation in the back, then migrated to the front to carry on the role of a server, and even helped organize the dishes in the back from time to time. Arthur for President! :)
•    First-time volunteer and server Kristi began by choosing the Theme-of-the-Day and carried that enthusiasm & joy with her through out the day. And she’s the Vice-President!
•    Sadan’s ability to engage guests wowed everyone! He was able to connect with guests on a deeper level and even tagged a bunch of them with gifts! The award of Tagger-Extraordinaire for this week goes to this young man.
•    The duo of Tom and Vikram is a duo to look out for.  Even with serving 100 guests, they never missed a beat washing the dishes and bussing tables.
•    MJ amazed us with his amazing interface and maitre’d (from time to time) skills. When the restaurant got a bit hectic, MJ held the fort down. Did I mention, he can even make a mean plate of naan. :)
•    Aditi and Anjuman demonstrated how a difficult task could be made into a joyous one with a touch of love and creativity!
•    Eric was churning out drinks and desserts before the orders were placed! Talk about a fabulous turnover. :)
•    Nipun played a role that we don’t have a name for yet, but ‘savior’ seems to be in the same category. Switching from maitre’d to bussing and setting up tables to engaging guests, Nipun was the icing on a perfect cake. :)
•    Audrey and Chris came to eat but joined the party to volunteer! First she said no, then she blushed, and finally she left everyone speechless with her poetic words! Chris was the perfect tonic who came through when we needed it the most, at the end. :)

Guest comments on the theme of JOY:
•    It gives me “joy” to see beautiful wide open spaces of nature.
•    What makes me smile? It’s when another reckons me (in any sense) with a new reality and possibility for life.
•    Disappearing cancer cells!
•    Seeing other people interacting with strangers and spreading smiles out into the world. Also, just being content with myself for who I am really brings me joy!
•    The joy of my life is the continous feed of hilarious off-beat comments made by my neice and nephews.
•    The sense of purpose and gratitude that comes from building houses for East Bay Habitat for Humanity.
•    When a 3-year-old, Charlie K calls me his best friend.

One of the guests even left a card (see image) for Karma Kitchen, which reads:

Dear Karma Kitchen Staff, Volunteers, Chefs, and Guests,
    What you are doing today, your goodwill and service is so much appreciated by so many people in our community. Each of you are helping create a more loving and caring world! Thank You so much!!

Thank You to all of you for creating such a beautiful experience for all the guests and each other! And we hope to see you again!

--Maitre'd on Jul 28, 2010

Karma Kitchen Chicago Opens With a Baam!

After approximately 1 year of planning, preparing, and putting forth full efforts to bring Karma Kitchen to the great city of Chicago, the time has finally come!  On Sunday, July 11, 2010, Karma Kitchen Chicago opened its doors in collaboration with Klay Oven Restaurant located in the River North area of the Windy City. 
Prior to the launch, the Karma Kitchen team held a volunteer orientation at the restaurant.  The majority of the volunteers had never even experienced a Karma Kitchen before, but as the orientation came to an end, it was apparent that the synergies began to manifest themselves and that the Karma Kitchen concepts were coming to light.  Although a Karma Kitchen opening day is slightly different from the opening day for a baseball team, the team still had the same goal: to make sure we hit it out of the park for all of our guests!    
On launch day, as the team met that morning, the energies were high and the excitement obvious.  One amazing thing after another was set in motion.  Seeing the amazing work product of the committees and what they were able to accomplish in just a few days was astounding.  Within the first 30 minutes of opening our doors, the entire restaurant was almost filled.  The hosts up front held their own with the swarm of guests coming in, some knowing about Karma Kitchen, others hearing about it for the first time.  The servers were running all over the place, but gracefully juggling all of their tables and helping to ensure that their guests were having a positive experience.  One gentleman commented about the professionalism of the team and the manner in which Karma Kitchen was run.  Others spoke to the underlying ideals surrounding the gift economy and the experiment in generosity.  Finally, some of the guests were surprised by the fact that the volunteers had their own professions and were doing this without any expectation of receiving something in return. 
During the first two hours of Karma Kitchen, the volunteers demonstrated that when everyone is volunteering for the same reason and when that reason stems from wanting to push their own generosity to the limit, amazing things can happen!  Special kudos to the Outreach Team who did such a great job of spreading the word about our launch.  Fearing that the World Cup would prevent people from coming in, the Outreach Team even turned this into a positive message:  "Come to Karma Kitchen and then go to Watch the World Cup!"  
Another kudos to the Ambiance Team who did an amazing job of transforming Klay Oven into Karma Kitchen.  Complete with the KK experience were menus, note pads on each table with a greeting message to the guests, laminated quote sheets on each table, signs, kindness table decorations, and more.  The restaurant looked great!  One of the volunteers put together a playlist of local Chicago artists to play during Karma Kitchen hours (one artist actually came as a guest and was thrilled to hear his music playing across the restaurant)!   
Though we learned a lot about the process and came out with a few things to change for next time, perhaps the most valuable lesson came in the form of a deeper understanding of ourselves and giving without expectation.  Although success is defined in many different ways, we know that our opening day was a success because we served over 100 guests, created a unique community experience, and approached the day wholeheartedly with a smile. 
The Karma Kitchen Chicago team would like to give a BIG shout-out to Karma Kitchen Berkeley and Karma Kitchen DC for their utmost support, assistance.  This all would not have been possible without them!  As one volunteer so eloquently put it, "We carried KK Berkeley and KK DC with us with every thali that we served."
Needless to say, the Karma Kitchen Chicago team truly hit it out of the park on opening day!

--Anish Parikh on Jul 14, 2010

July 11 at Berkeley Karma Kitchen

"She is courageous and fearless"

"He plays 5 instruments"

"Her smile alone gives a sense of security and warmth."


This Sunday, our theme of the day at Berkeley was interconnection. Partly spurred by the excitement surrounding the World Cup finale, we challenged ourselves and our guests to think connections. To think about how we know each other, and to think about how we can get closer in our relationships.

This week was marked by some exceptional performances by our volunteers. With the roster looking sparse, we had some Karma Kitchen veterans step it up. Bhoutik had his first day as maitre d', and he was incredible. Moving from table to table, sporting his traditional B2 smile, Bhoutik spent all day making new guests feel welcome and getting everyone thinking about kindness. Sam B. also stepped up and agreed to try out our interface role. Sam guided our new servers and effortlessly coordinated quite a few big orders.


Our two new servers, Prasanna and Avelina, were a source of energy and excitement all day. Just the two of them covered the entire restaurant, yet they still had time to get to know their guests and experience Karma Kitchen.


Lachmin and Aditi were both all-stars. Lachmin came as a last-minute savior, helping clear tables just as the post-match lunch rush kicked in. Aditi helped make sure the naan came out quickly, and she learned how to make a mean basket herself.


The back of the restaurant  was a steady but surging river. Our two platers, Kevin and Carol, were on the same wavelength all day, cranking out plates of delicious, warm food. Gabby was making drinks and desserts faster than the servers could bring them out. Even Carol's sister Judy, helped join in on the act. She was inspired to serve after enjoying her lunch at Karma Kitchen.


All in all, it was a fantastic day. It's great to see Berkeley coming out to support this experiment in generosity all summer. Also, congratulations to Karma Kitchen Chicago. We all anxiously await that story :)

--Tom on Jul 12, 2010

Year of Giving

I really like what Karma Kitchen is trying to accomplish and frequent the Washington DC location. Last time I was there they gave me $10 to pay it forward some how... I chose to pass the money onto a DC classroom project at Donars Choose ( I passed the money onto a teacher who asked for pencils for her students. I seemed crazy to me that they did not even have enough pencils!!! 

Thanks Karma Kitchen for showing me how small gifts can make such an impact. 

See you next week!

--Stephanie Sheppard on Jul 11, 2010

The 4th of July at Karma Kitchen

I just wanted to thank you all for such a fantastic time last Sunday. It was very uplifting to see so many people volunteering over a holiday weekend. I think we brought some great energy and enthusiasm to the community this past weekend.

Our group of first time servers: Suzie, Jonathan, Mustafa and Sudan were all incredible. Without a day of Karma Kitchen waiter/waitress experience, our four servers supplied our guests with a steady stream of drinks, naan, and smiles. They worked seamlessly with Roshni, our interface. She kept everyone in rhythm and juggled a few complicated group orders with ease!

In the back, Matthew and Susan were a plating tag-team. Bringing great positive energy that the back of the restaurant fed off all day, these two plated and presented some beautiful and delicious plates. Arthur kept everyone in stitches, cracking jokes while handling the drinks and dessert section. He seemed to read the servers' minds, always having a few back-up mango lassi's or pie slices ready to go.

In front, MJ was his usual "all-smiles" self as our maitre d'. From groups of students to a traveling guitar band, MJ made everyone feel welcome, and spoke to the Karma Kitchen mission with clarity and excitement. Aditi helped keep the front of the restaurant running smoothly, jumping in to fill water pitchers, bus tables, deliver food, or whatever else we needed our 'savior' to do! Candy Marie and Tom rounded things out, keeping a steady flow of dishes and silverware for the servers.

All in all, a great day of volunteering by everyone. We served over 80 people, and we did a great job helping Berkeley celebrate the 4th of July with sharing and love. It was very rewarding to step up the kindness on such a special day for our country.

--Tom on Jul 7, 2010

Karma Kitchen DC Community Profiles!

The Karma Kitchen DC Team has decided to embark on a new project!

Every Sunday we meet amazing individuals who inspire us, question us, and basically make the Karma Kitchen experience unique and wonderful. We thought it was about time we told the world about these incredible people which include guests, volunteers, and maybe even the random person who walks by Karma Kitchen.

In the first Community Profile, meet John Chambers, founder of BloomBars community art space, a regular guest, and fierce advocate of Karma Kitchen.

--Aparna on Jul 1, 2010

Community Poem: My father (Father's day tribute)

We experimented a community poem this past Sunday.  We passed a poem sheet from table to table and asked guests to contribute a sentence or two to the poem titled "My Father."  After I read this, I was really touched.  Thank you to all the contributors, and I would like to dedicate this poem to all the fathers around the world. 

My father

My father taught me sports link I am his son (I am a girl!)

He holds my hand, fortifies my mind, shows me how to hold my heart upright and offer it to others

As well as the art that I show to my mother!

He knows what I need, and he works hard to provide for me.

The father amongst Kings he keeps me sound in moments of despair.

He is the object of my life and fortitude of my dreams.

By his example, I learn how to give and not to judge, to love and receive love.

To be above all, a gentleman and scholar, showing a pure heart beneath the vest.

My father is a special man.  He has taught me to be kind to others and independent.

I heard we learn our work habits from our fathers.

He wants the best for me.   So I try my best.

He is very caring and loving and he accepts me!

My father strong in his stand set in the form of god’s gift.

Unknowingly suffocates my spirit, but because today is his to shine I will let it slide.

His memory stretches across the sky like the clouds that give us shade and nourishing water. 

Learned, not forceful or proud, but ready with an answer or honest “I don’t’ know.” Strong forces observed with <Hebrew writing> and like Karma Kitchen’s philosophy, I hope to one day, pay forward all the love my father gave me to my own child.

--Aya on Jun 21, 2010

Road to Heaven Paved with Good Intentions

Sundays have a certain grace about them in many cultures. How early does that grace start?  For Karma Kitchen last Sunday, it started at 9:00am! 

That's right - from Florida to San Jose to a cozy bed near you, our radiant crew flowed into Karma Kitchen starting at 9am. No wonder the day was bountiful with good intentions! (A timely theme chosen by 
Candy Marie & particularly enjoyed by a soon-to-be-married couple of guests.)

Kinjal was meant to be a Server, and she radiated that serenity and a 300-Watt smile all day. Be sure to catch this woman in action next time! Michael merged his restaurant expertise with a contagiously boisterous heart at our community tables - and have we mentioned he came from Florida for this? Meghan was a magnet for generosity, proven when she gave her copy of a meditation manual to a woman in an act of sure-fire synchronicity - then received the last of its kind from ever-mindful Chris at our closing circle! (His powers of keen observation and quiet grace set quite the tone for us this week.)  Eva basked in the glow and enjoyed numerous occasions to boogie with joy at the overflowing kindness in the room. And our aptly named Savior, Joni, led us all in true service with only a big ol' smile and shining brow to show her inspiration. Well, she might have "whoopeed" a bit, too. (I know we mentioned this, but Joni and nephew Michael came ALL THE WAY FROM FLORIDA.) Sadan's subtle service on plates blossomed when he transitioned to a server, reflecting what chivalry can look like in modern times. 

While uber veteran Roshni managed all the flow, in the back it was all smiles, and while we had over a hundred guests to serve food to, the atmosphere could only be described as calm, collected, and well, just "rejuberated"! (credit goes to Richard for our new vocab word!) First-timer Candy Marie teamed up with Juan to take on the arduous task of dish-washing for the whole day.  She cleaned with a huge smile, all the while asking all the chefs for recipes for what was being served up that day.  Sadan and Bill defied gender stereotypes, as they became the first male duo to grace us with their amazing plating skills at KK, since its inception over three years ago!  Iris, an experienced server, owned drinks and desserts this week, showing her versatility.  Regardless of what role she played, she was just thrilled with the opportunity to serve!

Rarely do we see a group support every person in the room so thoroughly and with such... well, generosity. It was an honor.

--3 Amigo Anchors on Jun 16, 2010

Karma Kitchen: something special in the atmosphere

Karma Kitchen's strength lies in creating an atmosphere of generosity. When guests walk through those doors, they are not only greeted by the smells of wonderful cuisine, but the warmth of smiles and the embrace of kindness. It changes your whole orientation.

Serving this week, I was reminded of how powerful KK is in shifting orientations. In the heart of the 12-1pm rush, into the restaurant comes a homeless man wearing a pink vest, pink beeny, and carrying two over-stuffed plastic bags and a backpack. He had a scraggly white beard and piercing blue eyes. I greeted him with a smile, and he returned one. Then he says, "I was told that I could come here for a free meal, I'd like to have one."

I paused to come up with the appropriate response. KK isn't a soup kitchen, and our intention isn't to give out "free meals." The food served is a gift, and has a value; the challenge we give to guests is to decide what value it has to them.

Sensing that this person had not been explained the KK concept fully, I began to do so. He listened carefully, and afterwards said he understood, though since he was homeless he may not be able to pay for the meal. I told him that was fine, guests have been known to pay back in all kinds of ways. He could choose to give something besides money, something as simple as a note of thanks. Leaving his bulky belongings in a corner of the restaurant, I walked him over to an empty table where he sat and proceeded to have a meal. As he sat, each time I walked by he would look up and give a huge beaming smile. It seemed that he had caught the KK spirit.

Then, as the man finished his meal and prepared to get up from his table, I saw something extraordinary. He had a small coin purse in his hand, and was stuffing the bill holder with coins! I was floored. I approached him and asked him if he was actually paying for his meal, and he said he was. A homeless man! He said that he felt like he had to contribute something. The restaurant was about community, which to him was the most important thing. He also appreciated the opportunity to connect with South Asian culture through food. When I told him it wasn't necessary for him to pay, he responded, "I could only give a little, I wish I could contribute more!"

What a moment, a stunning shift in orientation. A homeless man walks into KK asking, "what can I get?" and walks out asking, "what can I give?"

This is what the atmosphere of KK can do to people. But that atmosphere isn't created without hard work. It is through our volunteers and their spirit of generosity and service. It is through boundless positive energy bubbling out of the back from Bhoutik, the endless smiles of Gauri (even as she made naan with the chefs :)), the calm, steady anchoring of Stephanie plating in the kitchen and Praveen serving in the front, the quarterback-like leadership of Kye, the step-it-up energy of Lucy (who handled the table for 10 at the end of the day without hesitation), the enthusiasm of not-so-new server Michelle, the essential plug-all-holes efforts of Vikram, and the infectious love of Susan. You all *are* that atmosphere; you create that space for transformation. I'm thankful to have witnessed it.

--Maitre-D' :) on Jun 7, 2010

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