Friday, December 9, 2011

Rema's Journey to Give-III: Reflections and the Future

I have felt extremely happy and contented that my efforts over the past year has put a strong program of Annadhaanam Seva activities. Not only are the homeless people getting fed, but also getting the goodies of small complimentary packages of toothpaste and brush, soaps, shampoos and conditioners.. About 2 weeks ago, an Iranian student from Wichita State University,following the path of Islam, interviewed me on behalf of HASC. She was impressed with the Annadhaanam Seva and said that she would love to sponsor one of the meals next year.

Most recently, I met a Christian couple Larry Hatteberg, ( who happens to be a T.V anchor), and his wife Judy, during an Amazing faiths dinner program sponsored by an organization called Global Faith in Action to promote inter-faith dialogue. Judy said that she would be happy to join in on the Annadhaanaam Seva with her group of friends. I felt delighted to hear both of these acknowledgements because both of them are from a different faith and they are willing to cook and serve vegetarian food without any sort of inhibition towards the Hindu faith.

Furthermore, people of other faiths are more interested on what it’s like to be a Hindu in America! Many churches invite me to host interactive sessions through which their members can get educated about me, my way of life and the philosophy of the Hindu religion. These sessions are helpful to clear their misconceptions about a Hindu, their lifestyle ; the philosophy of “ Vasudeva Kudumbakam” makes them subsequently feel comfortable to accept us as one among them, belonging to the big group called human race.

Rema's Journey to Give Part (II)-Success

This year, I called the co-ordinator of AECH who gave the list of the local churches so that I can set up the time and day early on for the volunteers of HASC to efficiently carry on the Annadhaanam Seva I went ahead and reserved all of the Sunday Suppers for the HASC members. Right about this time, Saajan Bhakta, who was the founder for an organization called POVSOLV, contacted me and was very interested with his group to feed the homeless once a month on a weekday. So I have solicited among the community members to continue the Annadhaanam Seva on the reserved Sundays.

The supper consisted of a nutritionally balanced meal; lentil or dhal soup, bread rolls, pasta , salad and dressing, bananas, chocolate chip cookies, milk or decaffeinated coffee and lemonade.It could be as simple as a peanut butter sandwich , salads, cookies etc., Thus, the first Annadhaanaam for this year commenced on November 2, 2011 by the PovSolve group, continued by groups from the community.

A humble couple in Drs. Joshi, who are physicians wanted to serve supper with their children and parents on the Thanksgiving weekend. Things were looking up and going great!

There was however, a weekend before Thanksgiving on Nov 20th when everyone was busy and could not commit to the date of Nov 20th for feeding. In order that this does not happen again, II contacted Lakshmi Ravi, the co-ordinator among the families who are working for the Infosys company in Wichita ; she has nearly 40 committed volunteers to effectively continue the Annadhaanam. Things picked up once again.( woo hoo!)

Journey to Give: Part I-Trials

If you feed the person, then you feed the soul. That is my belief when it comes to Annadhaanam, or the art of giving food to the poor and the homeless.

I wanted to cultivate Annadhaanam Seva as I noticed a lot of homeless people within my home town of Wichita, Kansas. More than one hundred of these people had no home, food or shelter, and were out in the cold nights on the streets. My journey to help these people started with me investigating the Kansas food bank, who directed me to members of AECH( Advocacy Group for Ending Chronic Homelessness). During my investigation, I found a small conglomeration of the city’s churches which have a temporary housing program from November to March, to give them a hot supper and a warm bed for the night. The homeless rested there and were forced to go out after breakfast into the streets. The breakfast and dinner programs were as a result of the church soliciting sponsorship from the community. The people that usually supported this kind of sponsorship were church members themselves .I am hoping and praying that HASC will have the infrastructure one day to care for humanity , provide food and shelter to the needy and less fortunate.

Inspired about 13 years ago by my eight year old daughter then, our family started this Annadhaanam Seva once a month at the Interfaith Inn in Wichita, KS. We usually fed 35 to 40 people, who lived in the Inn temporarily till they find a home of their own. A few families in the community joined us from time to time. Serving Wichita as an Americorps VISTA for a year helped me to place a consistent feeding program in place, under the auspices of the Utsav Seva.

Going back to the members of the small Indian community in Wichita, I found out that the temples did not have the infrastructure to host the homeless. Also, the volunteer base was really small. About some time into my research, I came across the Kabir Bhakta group, who were primarily from the state of Gujarat in India and their womens’ wing called Mahila Mandal were very compassionate. They are an extremely united group that owned a lot of the hotels, motels and laundromats within the area. Last year they helped me with feeding the people at the Overflow Shelter”. I solicited also with another non-profit organization called PovSolve, started by a young Hindu high school junior, Saajan Bhakta.

Written by Ramya Ramachandran
Edited by Rema Venkatasubban