How NW Harvest's Sandwich Brigade feeds thousands

SEATTLE - It's simple: bread with creamy, all-natural peanut butter and jelly.

Every Friday at Northwest Harvest's Cherry Street Food Bank, the Sandwich Brigade cranks out 500 to 600 sandwiches for anyone in need.

Volunteer coordinator Terrie Johanson says, "They're so thankful to get something to eat."

Johanson said she sees the line of hungry people that sometimes winds around the block in the morning, looking for something to eat.

"It's not just the homeless by any means," she says. "It could be your neighbor, construction worker, law clerk, somebody just needs a lunch for the day - they've come to the end of the month and their funds have run out."

Northwest Harvest said it sees the greatest need at the end of the month, when people's food money starts to run out. These are working parents and families who just can't afford food all month long.

Northwest Harvest said it's also noticed many clients coming in after losing their food stamps. One client said when Social Security gave him an extra $12 a month for a cost-of-living increase, he lost his eligibility for food stamps.

On Mondays and Wednesday, the Sandwich Brigade at Northwest Harvest makes a thousand sandwiches each day - either turkey or (thanks to a recent donation of 10,000 pounds of frozen, diced egg) they're making egg salad.

Then on Friday, the peanut butter provides a good vegetarian protein for people. Johanson buys her peanut butter in 35-gallon tubs, for less than $2 a pound.

But even at that low cost, Northwest Harvest had to cut its Friday Sandwich Brigade last year, until a hunger-fighting group, The Greater Good, stepped forward with a $20,000 grant. It created Operation Sandwich, providing grant money for supplies and employees for free labor.

Rian Cool with The Greater Good said they have 80 people in the office and any one can volunteer to come make sandwiches on Fridays. The time they give is not in addition to their regular day either. Cool said employees are paid to volunteer and counted as being at work for that time.

"It's really cool," said Cool. "I think more companies should invest. It's really good team-bonding. I think it's really good to pay it forward in the community."

Northwest Harvest is looking for the Greater Good to continue paying it forward and renew its $20,000 sandwich grant when it expires this summer.