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May

 “How Can I Be of Service?”

In the midst of this global pandemic, many of us are asking ourselves, “How can I be of service?” Jeffrey Schneider, Coordinator of the Zen Center Outreach Program talks to us about how he is turning that question.

For the past ten years, City Center resident and priest Jeffrey Schneider has served as coordinator for the Zen Center Outreach Program. Today, in the midst of this global pandemic, Jeffrey is asking with a beginner’s mind, “How can I be of service?”

Sometimes this question is answered with simple ideas for simple actions that help us stay connected with others in our community. For example, those at City Center with sewing skills have made masks for the residential community and have now produced enough surplus masks to give them to others in need. Jeffrey reached out to neighbors at Clara House, a transitional housing building that’s home to thirteen families, to begin delivering the surplus masks.

The Prison Correspondence Program is also providing a continuing opportunity to be of service during the pandemic. This program, which SFZC has coordinated for well over a decade, matches prisoners who wish to discuss their Buddhist practice with volunteer pen pals who have a well-established Buddhist practice of their own.

The need is even greater, as many prisoners now find themselves in lockdown 22 to 23 hours a day, visits have been prohibited, and volunteer-staffed programming has been discontinued. The program allows prisoners to stay connected and rooted in the Dharma, and to share the impacts of the pandemic across vastly different experiences. Jeffrey is always looking for volunteer pen pals. Anyone with an established practice, an understanding of basic Buddhist teachings, and about half an hour a month is welcome to get involved.

Jeffrey and SFZC volunteers have also led a twice-weekly Meditation and Stress Reduction Program at the San Francisco Jail. The city jail is now closed to visitors but the meditations have not been moved online. “This is one of the situations in which it becomes so easy to feel powerless,” says Jeffrey. “It renews the question, ‘How can I be of service?’ which is at the core of my practice right now.”

Some other outreach activities have successfully moved online. For the past several years, Jeffrey has been offering guided meditations at Lighthouse for the Blind which provides education, training and community for the blind and visually impaired.  He is now hosting these meditations via conference call.

The San Francisco Food Bank has stepped up to host pop-up pantries with grocery bag giveaways and Jeffrey will be volunteering with them next week.

Other programs, such as providing meals for the Winter Shelter Program and breakfast for unhoused men and women at St. John’s Episcopal Church, are also on hold. The San Francisco Food Bank has stepped up to host pop-up pantries with grocery bag giveaways, which the Outreach Program is now helping with.

Also on hold is the weekly offering of cooked meals to the residents of the Richardson Apartments in Hayes Valley, where formerly unhoused individuals need some assistance in order to live independently, as well as the memorial services Jeffry offers in his capacity as a Buddhist priest at a sister organization to the Richardson Apartments.

As our ability to reach out to members of our community who are in need is curtailed by the current pandemic, Jeffrey is asking himself and encouraging us to think anew about how we can be of help. Often, we can feel helpless and this feeling is amplified as we are asked to maintain physical distance for the wellbeing of all. “This requires us to get creative about how we can be of assistance to our communities,” says Jeffrey. And in the spirit of opening to the new reality we are facing, he encourages anyone with ideas about how SFZC can be a source of additional support during this time to contact him at outreach@sfzc.org.

Thank you, Jeffrey, for inspiring us with your thriving practice of dana paramita.