When the pandemic hit Atlanta, my friend and fellow social activist Marcy Louza and her Dunwoody neighbor Lisa Hiles began making sandwiches for the homeless and food insecure. Driving their philanthropic partnership was Louza’s Jewish and Hiles’ Catholic intersecting religious values of fairness (equity/sharing resources), responsibility (supporting neighbors), respect and role modeling (for their children).
Their neighbor Sheila Cohen, chief financial officer of CHRIS 180 (a United Way partner), told the women about the organization’s new outreach program to address increasing food scarcity during the pandemic. It involved distributing directly to those who live in remote areas where they are not able to access resources.
Louza said she and Hiles jumped at the chance to “meet people where they are” and invited friends, family and other neighbors to join their endeavor. Soon they began collecting upwards of 2,000 sandwiches a week. “People realized they could still do charitable work during the pandemic,” Louza said.
My family had been preparing sandwiches for several months when I shared the opportunity with my neighbors and friends who were looking for safe activities to do with their kids. I also posted in the Jewish Moms of East Cobb Facebook group, offering to keep a cooler on my driveway for anyone who wanted to bring sandwiches. At the end of that day, I had collected more than 750 sandwiches, and committed to hosting a drop-off location every Wednesday.
Having spearheaded other efforts in the community, I knew firsthand the spectacular power of this city’s Jewish moms. Marcy and I agreed to post a call to action in the broader Jewish Moms of Atlanta Facebook group and the ladies did not disappoint. More than 600 comments resulted and hundreds of interested volunteers rose to the occasion.
The Sandwich Project now boasts thousands of volunteers and nearly 20 homes in Alpharetta, Brookhaven, Buckhead, Candler Park, Decatur, Dunwoody, East Cobb, Peachtree Corners, Roswell and Sandy Springs serve as host sites for collections each Wednesday, with new locations added whenever someone volunteers. All hosts deliver their collections to designated drivers on Thursday mornings, who transport everything to CHRIS 180.
Cyndi Sterne of Brookhaven, Marni Bekerman of Dunwoody, Nancy Miller of Alpharetta and Ellyn Dinnerstein of Alpharetta have all stepped up to lead The Sandwich Project alongside Louza and me. In addition to serving as collection points in our respective communities, together we have managed The Sandwich Project’s explosive growth, administration, logistics, volunteer coordination, social media and much more.
This grassroots effort continues to grow as those contributing involve their own friends, neighbors and family, synagogues, sisterhoods, youth groups, book clubs, mahjong groups, and tennis teams, etc. Children are participating enthusiastically, with many using this opportunity for their b’nai mitzvah and other service projects. We also have initiated a HOA Ambassador program where volunteers share info about The Sandwich Project with their own neighborhoods.
The beauty of this effort is that anyone is able to prepare sandwiches from the safety of their own home and drop the food off via contactless delivery at convenient locations. There is no commitment required to contribute and volunteers can make as many sandwiches as they would like, as often as they are able, on any Wednesday.
We continue a partnership with Hiles, who has a large network of volunteers. The community currently contributes on average of more than 7,000 sandwiches a week in addition to hordes of granola bars and fruit, and it takes three or four fully loaded SUVs to transport all of the weekly collections. Incredibly, we marked the one-year anniversary of The Sandwich Project’s inception in April with our 100,000th sandwich provided and now we have collected even more.
This has proven to be a wonderfully safe and simple way to perform g’milut chasidim, acts of loving kindness, in the midst of a pandemic that has left so many destitute and struggling. Perhaps what’s most meaningful to me is that this effort is impacting both sides of the equation, helping those who need it most and providing an opportunity for the altruistic to teach their kids to be the change they wish to see in the world.
The Sandwich Project recently launched an official Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/783652755919659. For more information, email TheSandwichProjectAtlanta@gmail.com.
- Danielle Cohen
- Lisa Hiles
- Marcy Louza
- Sheila Cohen
- Chris 180
- Jewish Moms of Atlanta
- Jewish Moms of East Cobb
- Sandwich Project
- Sandy Springs
- Peachtree Corners
- east cobb
- Candler Park
- Cyndi Sterne
- Marni Bekerman
- Ellyn Dinnerstein
- Nancy Miller