ELIZABETH, NJ – Mary Ann Matthews was busy stuffing bags with peanut butter and jelly and turkey and cheese sandwiches, one of each, at the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless on Division Street.
“I like giving back, so when Capitol One gave us this opportunity, I said, ‘I’m in!” explained the student bank branch leader. So were the two dozen volunteers who were busy making and packing sandwiches with an assembly line precision and efficiency that would impress Ford Motors.
They were there as part of a month long project called Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, an initiative of Assemblywoman Annette Quijano. Every Tuesday morning in August for the last three years, volunteers gather to make 250 sandwiches to feed the city’s hungry citizens. Some are groups of co-workers from companies like Capitol One, State Farm, Investor’s Bank, and two officers from the Immigration and Border Patrol. Others were neighbors, and some brought their adolescent children.
“Assemblywoman Quijano does a lot to help make a difference,” explained her legislative aide Dustin Eisenstat, who organized the project. “She does a lot with the Coalition and will have a school supply drive on August 26.”
“They are a godsend,” said Linda Flores-Tober, executive director of the Coalition. “People make sandwiches all year around, but they go on vacation in the summer. What happens in August is that there isn’t a crumb here, but people are still hungry.”
Flores-Tober continued, “It isn’t unusual for us to ask a client when was the last time you ate, and they say, ‘Yesterday.’ Some parents save their food for their children, then come here for a sandwich. Others stop on their way to work to get a sandwich because they don’t have money for lunch.”
Making sandwiches, said Flores-Tober, is an easy way to make a difference. It is something you can do from home with children. “One school asks students to bring two lunches, one for us,” said Flores-Tober. “One boy said to his mother, ‘We have to make two lunches today because people are hungry.’ Another mother thanked us for saving her son’s life. He was a homeless drug addict who wanted to come clean. He lived on our sandwiches until he could kick the habit.
“Something that seems so simple can make a profound difference in someone’s life – like a sandwich.”