What is needed here? That is the question Swami would have wished us to inquire before developing a service project. Find the need and address it. He will guide us to the appropriate answer...writes veteran Sai devotee Hal Honig from New York on his inner prompting to render service to those deserved. (From Sanathana Sarathi, February 1991)
A native New Yorker, I know this city well, its districts, its people. I have seen it change in terrible ways as drugs, crime, violence, disease and homelessness threaten the well being of all who live here. As I walk the streets, take the subways, go shopping, I have been forced to recognize the plight of so many. It is hard to avoid the people with paper cups begging and those without the energy to do even that. It is impossible to give to them all and I am never sure if they are truly needy or just lazy. I cannot judge and so I avoid them whenever I can. They don't look pleasant. Some seem threatening. I feel ashamed of myself because I rarely give them money and I justify my decision with the reminder that I do a lot of service with feeding the poor and working with children. Nevertheless I feel uncomfortable with myself in this city that is the fountainhead of so many cultural treasures.
I have prayed to Swami to guide me to resolve the two needs involved here, the need to help those who deserve help and the need to help myself out of the feeling of guilt because I am not doing as much as I can do.
Swami gave me a very simple solution. Every morning I prepare sandwiches with some cookies and put them in my Prasanthi Nilayam cloth bag. I then go about my usual daily routine. Instead of avoiding the beggars and the homeless, I stop and ask: "Would you like a sandwich?" In almost every case, the answer is "Yes, thank you." Sometimes there is a smile and almost always eye contact. I don't know if they are all hungry for the sandwich, but I am certain that they are hungry for the attention that comes from someone recognizing them and offering some small help. At times the response has been surprisingly sweet and deeply moving.
The greatest change has been the change in me. My need has been more than met. I no longer avoid people and I no longer feel ashamed of myself for not doing something to help. I never leave my apartment without my Sai Care Sack on my shoulder. I am deeply grateful for His guidance. At an interview in January, 1990, Swami answered my question "How can I help?" by saying, "Follow your conscience. I am always guiding you." He guided. I followed.
As National Service Co-ordinator (for the U.S.), I would like to suggest this as a Sai service project. It is so easy to prepare some sandwiches and cookies and keep them with you. Most cities have the same problems as we have here. Even those who drive to work find panhandlers approaching their cars. Have a sandwich ready to give, think of the Lord, see Him in their eyes and humbly, trustingly, leave the results to Him