Community Service: Making & Giving Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

As we enter this season of giving, many of us search for ways to engage actively in giving. How can we truly participate in this process? We can donate food and toys, we can give money to charitable organizations; there are so many choices! As altruistic and generous as the act of donating is, as a parent I look for ways that my family can work together to share what we have with others in a meaningful way. I want to put the food or toys in the hands of those that need them. But how can a family with young children do this? How can a jiu jitsu school with over 100 students ranging from age 4 to 60+ do this?
One way is to host a PBJ event: a simple and easy way to engage your family and community in an act of giving that puts food in the hands of those who need it most!
Step One: Gather your people! Advertise! Shout it from the rooftops! Tell your students and friends to tell THEIR people! All are welcome and the more hands on deck, the better.
Step Two: Gather the goods! Your basic requests are bread, peanut butter, and jelly. Bread is the limiting factor so it’s best to ask people to bring at LEAST two loaves of bread each, along with a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly. Some items to consider: plastic knives, plastic sandwich bags, and paper bags to put sandwiches in. You can request these from participants, you can ask for donations from local stores or companies (grocery stores are great for these types of donations!), or you can provide them yourself.
Step Three: Market, market, market! Social media, local community boards, coffee shops…get the word out! Because this kind of event has no age limit, encourage families to come. Tell them to bring their friends. Local Girl/Boy Scout troops may need a service project and this is perfect!
Step Four: Sling sammys! Set up tables or just lay tablecloths on your floor space. You’ll want each sandwich to go into a plastic bag and then 6-7 sandwiches to go into a brown paper bag. Offer wet wipes so people can wipe peanut butter and jelly off their hands. At about half way through the allotted time, encourage people not to open new jars of peanut butter and jelly until the open jars are empty. Unopened jars can be donated to local food banks, but opened jars need to go home with participants or tossed.
Step Five: Distribute! Go to a local area with a large homeless community. Often, this is near shelters, soup kitchens or other resources. Pack the brown bags full of sandwiches into bigger bags and encourage your participants to walk around and offer sandwiches to anyone who might want some. People may approach you and ask what you have. Offer a smile, dignity, and respect. They are appreciated just as much as food.
Step Six: Regroup! Ask your participants what they thought. How did they feel? Did they notice anything in particular? How would they do it differently next time? You may have heard people asking for certain items as they received the sandwiches…maybe you can do a drive to collect those items next time?
A PB&J event is a unique way to get into the community and give people a way to get to bed with food in their belly and wake up to food for breakfast. You will not walk away from it unaffected by the people you’ve served and it will offer you a jumping off point to talk to participants of all ages about gratitude, perspective, and mutual respect. Participating in this kind of event should leave everyone with a sense of pride in their ability to serve those who need it most, but also questioning how they can help more.

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