The sandwiches piled up quickly Friday night. Stacks of two became stacks of four, which became stacks of eight, which then became little peanut butter and jelly fortresses before they were whisked away and wrapped up.
It was a lot of food to be sure. Twenty loaves of bread transformed into 340 sandwiches in little more than half an hour by energetic – and soaking wet – swimmers at the Old Georgetown Pool in Bethesda, who donated the meals to a group that feeds Washington’s poor.
The whole exercise was the brainchild of Janet Vissering, whose two kids swim for Old Georgetown, a team in the Montgomery County Swim League.
In past years, Fridays would be a day to indulge rather than donate. The team would spend about $700 each summer buying swimmers doughnuts as a reward for a week’s worth of hard work. Vissering saw an opportunity to channel those funds in a different direction.
“We’re trying to promote a healthy lifestyle and healthy habits, and kids sitting here with doughnuts didn’t make that much sense,” Vissering said.
She knew of local schools making sandwiches during the school year for Martha’s Table, a not-for-profit agency in Washington that tries to distribute 2,500 sandwiches each day.
Vissering said that in Bethesda, one of Washington’s affluent suburbs, kids are often unaware of the extreme poverty in the area.
If the mission was to get kids thinking about helping out, it seems to have struck a chord.
“They understand they’re doing this for someone else,” parent Mariana Straathof said.
And to hear the swimmers tell it, they really do.
“I just think it’s really great how we can help the community,” said 16-year-old Andrew Germunder.
“You’re helping instead of getting something for yourself,” said Evan Connolly, 11.
“I just really like peanut butter and jelly and it’s great to make them for someone else,” said Camille Hoffman Delette, 10.
And it’s not just that the kids are learning about community service, said Emily Cavanagh, a 15-year-old swimmer. She said the ritual of sandwich building is also good for team building.
“I think it’s really great,” she said. “There’s lots of kids. You sit there and goof around with your friends and make sandwiches.”
Typically the team members make the sandwiches right after practice on Fridays, but last week they pulled double duty. They combined to make 200 sandwiches in the morning, but that evening was the team’s annual pasta dinner fundraiser. So Vissering , who got $300 from the team to launch the program, bought more bread and PB&J and set them out on tables.
When a thunderstorm erupted, sopping swimmers piled inside and got to work. They slipped on gloves for two reasons: to be sanitary and keep the sandwiches from getting soggy.
The kids worked with the efficiency of a trained assembly line. One girl slathered strawberry jelly onto a line of bread slices, while the girl next to her did the same with peanut butter.
Amid the mayhem, Vissering said, “We rise to the occasion.”
The team’s exuberance and efforts help pick up some of the slack for Martha’s Table, which sees a sharp decline in its donations during the summer.
“We have a fairly large group during the school year,” said Dominick Musso, director of facilities and food programs at Martha’s Table. “We have a much smaller group (in the summer). For example, typically during the summer we’re more reliant on churches and corporations than we would be on schools.”
While some of the kids said they definitely miss getting doughnuts on Fridays, nobody said they wanted to get rid of making sandwiches.
The success of the Old Georgetown Pool’s sandwich workforce has Vissering and other parents hoping that the idea spreads to other pools and that more summer groups get on board with the idea.
“It’s a wonderful thing for us if that comes to fruition,” Musso said.
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