Once a month, perhaps 50 men, women and children of different backgrounds and faiths gather in the parish center of St. Mark’s Church in Shoreham. We are the Peanut Butter and Jelly Gang.
We make sandwiches for hungry people on the East End of Suffolk County.
Our process resembles an assembly line Henry Ford might be proud to call his own.
Long tables are covered with paper, and we line up on both sides. Two slices of bread are placed on a paper plate, which is then pushed to the next person. Another person wearing latex gloves for cleanliness liberally spreads peanut butter on one side of each slice so the jelly in the middle won’t soak through the bread. Next is the jelly itself. Just a dollop is enough, so it won’t ooze out of the edges. The next person brings the slices together. Another member slides the finished sandwich into a Ziploc bag and places it into a labeled box, where it is counted. The paper plate is then returned to the other end of the table, and the process starts again.
The creation of simple, nutritious and comforting food for anonymous people in need — and who doesn’t need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sometimes? — brings everyone together with laughs and conversation about family and current events. It only takes about an hour or so to reach our goal of making about 550 sandwiches. After we finish, veteran members deliver the boxes to food kitchens and outreach centers. Among them are the Bread and More Interfaith Nutrition Network and the Long Island Council of Churches, both in Riverhead, as well as Hope House in Port Jefferson and Joseph’s Storehouse in Aquebogue.
Our group has its roots in a gathering of just four people who, 26 years ago this month, made about 200 bologna and cheese sandwiches at St. Anne’s Church in Brentwood. That effort has grown into a network of 28 “PB&J gangs” at houses of worship, schools, hospitals and scout meetings. They deliver 3,200 sandwiches a week to 25 kitchens across Long Island and to Harlem. They also pack wash kits — baggies holding soap, a cloth and toiletries — for homeless people.
Similar work is done by other organizations around Long Island. They all have missions to help others and stories that inspire.
In this crazy, complicated world, I feel that these good groups invite us to create connections and help our communities.
As St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I know I always feel better after working with my gang to make all those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Reader Jeanne Knudsen lives in Ridge.