Spreading peanut butter in a hungry world

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There’s nothing better than the aroma of fresh bread just out of a hot car. Every Monday at 7 p.m., Jenni Carpenter, who organizes a volunteer effort called PB&J for the Homeless, also known as the PB&J Project, transports 50 loaves of fresh sliced bread in her personal vehicle each week. Her husband, Keith Carpenter, brings all the other supplies separately and he helps unload everything into the kitchen where volunteer sandwich-makers will soon magically appear, at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, 2306 Milton Way, Milton. Together the volunteers all don plastic gloves before picking up plastic knives to start making sandwiches from three essential ingredients: creamy peanut butter, seedless jelly, and pieces of fresh bread.

Hoping to attract more volunteers so that the weekly effort goes more quickly for everybody, Carpenter, who started the volunteer campaign with her son Brock Carpenter and his baseball team six years ago (the teen has since graduated from Fife High School and moved on to Seattle University, where he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017), said anyone can volunteer to help.

“Kids love knowing that the sandwiches they are making are helping others who don’t have food or a home,” she said. “It is a great family-friendly volunteer opportunity too where all ages can participate to spread the condiments or bag the sandwiches.”

Jessica Connaway and her son Jacob Connaway agree about how great it feels to help feed those less fortunate. They have been volunteering in the sandwich-making kitchen for three years and Jessica said she first heard of the opportunity when she picked up a copy of the Milton-Edgewood Signal; currently referred to as the Fife Free Press/Milton-Edgewood Signal.

Each week Franz bakery donates all 50 loaves for the Monday night sandwich-making marathon but the creamy peanut butter and seedless jelly are donated by individuals and Carpenter said they can always use more of those ingredients. They could also use more donations for Ziplock baggies to put the sandwiches in.

On this recent Monday night, some volunteers worked in groups, coordinating who spreads the peanut butter and who spreads the jelly, but others preferred to work all alone. There are no rules for how volunteers should make the sandwiches. Whether you put the peanut butter on the bread first, then the jelly on top of the peanut butter before adding the final dry slice of bread to the top does not matter. Some sandwich-makers simply preferred to spread jelly on one slice and peanut butter on the other before marrying the two pieces of bread together. Similarly, there are no rules for deciding what to do with the crusty ends from those 50 loaves of bread that are used to make 490 sandwiches for the homeless each week.

“Sometimes volunteers take the heels home to feed their ducks,” said Carpenter, who speaks about her garage, with the wall full of shelves designated exclusively for storing the plastic table cloths that she buys from The Dollar Store to protect the church tables. She also stores the plastic knives, baggies, condiments and other sandwich-making supplies there.

Once the freshly-made sandwiches are put into Ziplock bags, Carpenter loads them in her car to deliver to the Tacoma Rescue Mission, which (according to the mission’s website) serves 1,200 meals a day.

“The Tacoma Rescue Mission puts the sandwiches out at meal-times so the men have something to take with them as they leave the mission,” Carpenter said.

Every week the sandwich-making volunteers slice through 20 pounds of peanut butter, 15 pounds of seedless jelly and 490 baggies. The donated ingredients must be creamy and seedless because many low income and homeless people have dental issues that make them unable to chew nuts or seeds.

While both hands are required to make peanut butter sandwiches, as the soft bread wants to either rip or scoot across the table when peanut butter resists getting smeared too quickly, and a second hand is required to hold the bread steady, a person could eat a PB&J with just one hand, so the other hand can wave at admirers, carry a purse, or make hand gestures, like a peace sign.

On Monday, July 24, volunteer Jessica Mattson donned a pair of plastic gloves along with her 6-year-old son, Fisher Mattson, and 12-year-old daughter, Riley Stalker. Mattson said she and her children started volunteering for sandwich-making when Fisher was just a baby. The family had some other obligations over the years, which pulled them away from the Monday night sandwich-making marathon for a while, but they have been back to making sandwiches more faithfully again these past two years.

Mike Teodoro, who usually brings his children to volunteer has showed up at PB&J for the Homeless these past six years but on this particular night one of his children was at summer camp and the other was spending the night at their grandma and grandpa’s, so daddy worked alone.

Carpenter said she sees different groups from the high school that show up to help on any given Monday.  The cheerleaders, for example, commit to volunteering on the first Monday each month but on this night a few fast pitch softball players were the ones there to help.

Nicole Richardson, Nicole Burns and Rachelle Lewis have all played softball for Fife High School and they chatted happily while sweetening the bread slices with peanut butter and jelly. The two Nicoles graduated this past year and Lewis is just about to enter her senior year.

The way Carpenter got started helping the Rescue Mission is through a cleaning business she once had. One of her older clients had started meeting with friends to make sandwiches and back then they just handed out their homemade sandwiches underneath a bridge. Carpenter said a man approached the older women and suggested it might not be safe for them to be there and offered to help them distribute their sandwiches. That’s how they began delivering the sandwiches through the mission.

According to the National Peanut Board (nationalpeanutboard.org), the very first peanut butter and jelly sandwich came about around the 1920s. In 1917, Paul Welch bought a patent for pureeing grapes for jelly, which he marketed as Grapelade (rhymes with apple-maid). The creation of peanut butter is attributed to a St. Louis physician, Dr. Ambrose Straub, who made a peanut paste for his geriatric patients who had difficulty swallowing or who had dental troubles. It was in the 1880s when Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of Kellogg’s cereal fame) secured a patent for making peanut butter but Dr. Straub did not arrange for a food company to develop his brand of peanut spread until 1904.

Also according to the National Peanut Board, PB&J sandwiches, made with Grapelade, became popular during WWI thanks to the sandwiches being highly portable and for peanut butter’s ability to stay fresh much longer than meat, which was scarce at the time.

Anyone who wants to volunteer to make PB&J sandwiches on a Monday evening or who can donate supplies for PB&J for the Homeless may contact Jenni Carpenter directly at miltonsoccermom@comcast.net or through Messenger on Facebook: Facebook.com/PbjForTheHomeless.

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