Our First Steps at Serving the Poor in D.C.
Darkness, enveloping the grounds of the M.A. Center in Patomic, Maryland at this predawn hour, is interrupted in the foyer and kitchen by soft lighting. There is mostly silence, sandwiched by the just completed chants of the morning practices, and the impending soft din of pots, pans, vessels and voices, all in service of the year-old feeding project of the DC chapter of Embracing the World.
The 'Ziti Project', named after the pasta entree that's being prepared, is a newer accompaniment to the longstanding Mother's Kitchen in DC.
Since the spring of 2011, members of this satsang have congregated monthly on the second Saturday, to prepare lunch for the local homeless population, which gathers in a nearby church basement, located ten minutes from the ashram. Approximately 40 impoverished men and women receive at least one meal a day through the auspices of Bethesda Cares, a local community outreach organization which ministers to the homeless. The modest contribution of ETW - DC is the provision of a warm plate of food, one day per month, as part of Bethesda Cares' meal program.
In this spirit, with Amma's example and teaching as the inspiration, the assembled volunteers begin their service. Ingredients for the meal are often donated by DC satsang members. As the sun rises, the kitchen slowly springs alive. Vegetables are sliced and chopped by a few, to be meshed into a salad. Pasta is submerged in pots of boiling water, later to be mixed with multiple cheeses, and smothered by a layer or two of pasta sauce, before being thrust into the oven for baking.
Amma's bhajans will occasionally be played softly in the background as the activities unfold. Chai, bagels or banana bread may be consumed by participants amidst the completion of their allotted tasks. Within a couple of hours, the tantalizing smell of the warm, gooey and cheesy ziti emerging from the oven informs all that the activity is coming to a close.
Collectively, there is a feeling that these may be our toddling first steps in serving the poor in DC; maybe there will be opportunities for expanding our efforts in the future. If so, we hope that we will be blessed with a similar expansion of our hearts.