Faced with challenges such as a seriously deteriorating building and a pandemic, the Krishna House in Tallahassee, Florida recently came close to closing its doors for good. But the efforts of dedicated devotees brought it back from the brink, and the project is now steadily reaching out to students at Florida State University (FSU) with Krishna Lunch and other regular programs.
ISKCON of Tallahassee was first established by early Prabhupada disciples Brahmananda and Gargamuni around 1970, and the current Krishna House was first purchased in 1986. The lunch program began over 20 years ago on a small scale, and gradually developed into a regular effort. Most recently the Krishna House had been run by Brajananda Das, who devotedly nurtured the morning program, Krishna Lunch and other outreach.
When Covid hit in March 2020, however, and FSU stopped on-campus learning and all in-person programs including Krishna Lunch at the beginning of the pandemic, the Krishna House was left without its main source of income.
On top of that, the building was in catastrophic disrepair. The roof was leaking, termite infestation had caused severe damage, the foundation had developed major cracks, and the house’s front corners were sinking into the ground due to accumulated rain runoff. There were also maintenance issues with the bathrooms, kitchen, floors, plumbing, and electric. An inspector told devotees that repairs would cost $100,000 or more and would not be worth it, as the total value of the property at the time was less than $150,000 and there was $50,000 left to pay on the mortage.
In July 2020, a meeting was called with the property trustees, GBC, temple president and Ramiya Das, a longtime member of the board of directors. It was decided that the devotees should relocate, and the building should be sold. Immediately, all the devotees starting moving out.
Days later, Ramiya, who had retired from his full-time job as a computer programmer in 2008 to dedicate his time to preaching, called the GBC back, asking if he could make one more attempt to save the Krishna House.
Getting the go-ahead, Ramiya found contractors to start the repairs step by step. To get the foundation fixed, he took out a credit card himself and put $15,000 on it. Next, he had a contractor replace the roof, and asked a D.C.-based couple who were former Tallahassee congregation members to make a ten-minute video for a Gofundme page. The couple went far above and beyond, immediately putting a check in the mail for $10,000 to pay for the whole roof. Meanwhile a Cincinatti couple who had come to Krishna consciousness through ISKCON Tallahassee paid the balance on the foundation repairs.
Next, two-by-fours in the substructure and roof that had been eaten through by termites and turned to dust were replaced. The deity kitchen, apartment kitchen, and bathrooms had to be completely remodeled, work done on the plumbing and electrical systems, and all the floors were redone. Cracks in the side of the building that could have led to collapsing walls were fixed. The commercial stove, which only had one working burner, was replaced. New gutters were put up to route drainage away from the building. The front porch – a raised concrete slab which had cracked all the way through in several places – was fixed and repainted. The total cost of all the repairs was $70,000, all raised through donations from kind supporters who responded to Ramiya’s requests for help.
“At the advice of ISKCON Communications Director Anuttama Prabhu, we prayed every day, ‘My dear Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda, please close the doors we should not go through, open the doors you wish us to go through, and give us the strength and determination to go through them,’” says Ramiya. “And I think it worked!”
Towards the end of the renovations, husband and wife Kaliya Damana Das and Janesvari Dasi, who had previously run preaching centers in Arcata, Northern California, and Boulder, Colorado, moved to Tallahassee with their son Gopal to serve as co-managers of the Krishna House.
“They repainted the outside of the building, did some final repairs, and painted inside,” Ramiya says. “And now the place looks beautiful – a first class, very inviting facility.”
Working with FSU to meet their requirements, Krishna Lunch was restarted in September 2021 in the cafeteria on campus where it was previously based. Kaliya Damana and Janesvari’s 19-year-old son Gopal, who learned quantity cooking while in Mayapur Gurukula, began serving as the head chef. The team has been learning the ropes and gradually rebuilding interest, reinstating the Krishna House’s regular income source.
Krishna Lunch is now served from 11:30am to 1:30pm Monday to Friday, distributing vegan meals with 70% organic ingredients to about 50 to 100 people per day. Following Gainesville Krishna House’s formula, there’s rice, salad with almond dressing, and a different entrée every day – including BBQ tofu and mac ‘n’ cheese, Thai coconut curry, vegetable curry with kofta balls, four bean chili and corn chips, and lentil stew with veggies. Dessert is halava in a variety of incredible flavors – peanut butter chocolate, banana cream, pumpkin spice, pineapple coconut, and caramelized French Vanilla.
“Diners have told us it’s some of the best prasadam they’ve ever had,” Kaliya Damana says.
The official Bhakti Yoga club has also been reinstated, which will help devotes to reach out to more of FSU’s 42,000 students. Meanwhile a number of programs are held at the Krishna House, just two blocks away from FSU. These include a condensed morning program with japa and Bhagavatam class; a Tuesday spiritual movie night; a Wednesday Feast with kirtan, discussion and prasadam; a Thursday Bhagavad-gita discussion group; and a Friday night Harinama. There’s also a once a week sit-down kirtan and book table on campus, and weekend canoe japa retreats down a local river.
Some 10 to 25 students attend these programs, with happy, enthusiastic responses. Several have taken to daily chanting, and have learned how to lead kirtan. Accommodation is being arranged in the apartments next door for those who wish to participate in morning programs on a regular basis.
It’s an uplifting rebirth for the Tallahassee Krishna House after a challenging time – and the future looks hopeful.
Devotees who wish to live next door to the Tallahassee Krishna House and assist with the project may contact Kaliya Damana Das at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan 23, 2022
Anandini Tikunov (8th-grade student)
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org