Passing Along PB & Js
PEANUT BUTTER-AND-JELLY SANDWICHES ARE A STAPLE IN THE FREE WEEKLY LUNCHES DISTRIBUTED BY LIHUE LUTHERAN CHURCH’S MOBILE MUNCHIES PROGRAM.
Walking into Līhu‘e Lutheran Church’s dining room on an early Thursday morning is what it must feel like walking into Santa’s workshop in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. But instead of making toys, volunteers are stuffing paper bags full of food for the hungry. And rather than only working during the holiday season, these “elves” work year-round, providing nutritional meals for people of all ages every Thursday as part of the church’s Mobile Munchies program.
The helpers are responsible for assembling and distributing more than 400 paper-bag lunches filled with food like peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, raisins, carrots and granola bars. More than a dozen people regularly show up to help out each week and several pop in throughout the year.
“It’s a nice way to visit and do something lovely for the community, but it also brings personal joy,” says Susan Pittman. “They laugh together, they share their lives together, they meet new people, it’s just that feeling of belonging and being a part of something that’s a little bit more than you, or not even about you.”
In addition to her parishioner work with Līhu‘e Lutheran Church, Pittman also is owner of Clayworks in Kilohana. Helping out with Mobile Munchies is just another way for her to give back and do her part.
Richard “Obie” Obenauer, another volunteer, agrees about the need to be a part of something greater.
“You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to feed the hungry somehow,” he says.
And there are plenty of people, especially keiki, who are in need of Mobile Munchies’ services. Lunch bags are regularly donated to several organizations like Boys & Girls Club of Kaua‘i and Child and Family Services, as well as the elderly and low-income housing developments.
“So we know it’s going to the people who need it the most,” adds Pittman.
The group has been getting more requests lately, and their distribution numbers continue to climb. When Mobile Munchies was founded in 2005, only 36 lunches were made each week, totaling about 2,300 for the year. By 2007, some 12,600 lunches were distributed, and since about 2009, more than 20,000 make their way to the needy each year. That number, however, recently rose to 440 each week (almost 23,000 meals), as word continues to spread about the program.
“We’ll just keep going as long as our money holds out,” says Mobile Munchies founder Linda Garrett. “But it just seems like when we get way, way down, something happens, and we get an influx of money and we keep going.”
Garrett’s inspiration for starting Mobile Munchies came to her in a dream, she says, one that made her sit straight up in bed. In her dream, a voice spoke to her, telling her to make sandwiches. She had no idea what that meant, but after that night, she set out on a mission to find out.
Several days later, she learned that The Salvation Army was opening its Kōkua Soup Kitchen and was seeking volunteers to help. Garrett found fellow Līhu‘e Lutheran Church parishioners to assist, and they began cooking meals for the hungry. But as the weeks went by, she still had a desire to make sandwiches for those in need.
“And to give them something to take when they left the kitchen, so they would have a meal for later on,” she explains.
So every week before her congregation volunteered at The Salvation Army, Garrett and her husband, Ken, would fi ll paper bags with food in their home and bring them along for distribution. After one month, the number of bags they made each week grew from 36 to 70, and to more than 100 just a few months later. She realized they’d have to use their resources at the church to create the lunches. Thus, Mobile Munchies was born.
The best part about the entire project, says Garrett, besides easing the hunger pangs of those in need, is working with other generous people on Kaua‘i. Organizations like Rotary clubs, as well as individuals, have been generous in their support of the cause.
“Working together on this island is unbelievable,” she says. “Everywhere you look, people on this island give, and give, and give, and they don’t even think about it. It’s awesome. It just fills you up with hope.”
Visit lihuelutheranchurch.com for more information.