One by one, they act as an assembly line, preparing lunches for people struggling to meet their most basic needs.
A few volunteers are in charge of opening brown paper bags, while others make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As the effort picks up steam, people at another station begin filling the bags with fruit and cookies.
Like clockwork, a group of volunteers gather on the third Saturday of each month at Wauwatosa United Methodist Church and assemble about 200 bag lunches for people receiving assistance through the Gathering meal program at St. James Episcopal Church in downtown Milwaukee
"We usually have anywhere from 35 to 40 folks, both young and old," said WUMC parishioner Meg Kruger, who co-chairs a committee that has been planning the monthly activity.
WUMC has been overseeing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich project since March 2008. Kruger said participation and interest has grown in the years since.
Jim Justham, who also co-chairs the planning committee, said he and fellow organizers rarely have a short supply of foods to pack in the lunches. In addition to the staples — peanut butter, jelly and bread — volunteers typically pack the bags with a piece of fruit and another type of snack.
"I'm always amazed at how people will step up," Justham said. "Sometimes we'll make an announcement that we're running low on supplies, and we'll suddenly have an abundance. People are real charitable."
In the years since the PB&J project has become a mainstay at WUMC, volunteers have run the gamut in ages — from children who are 7 years old to older adults who are in their 70s.
"I think about some of the smallest kids, and how they get a real joy filling the bag with cookies or a piece of fruit," Kruger said. "It's a big deal to them, and they enjoy doing it. I think it teaches them a valuable skill."
Volunteers strategically partake in the PB&J project at 9 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month because of the meal schedule at St. James. The organization provides its last meal early in the day Saturdays, and it does not pick up again until late Sunday.
A few of the volunteers typically transport the lunches to St. James after the sandwich-making activities wrap for the morning.
In the two years he has been part of the effort, Justham said he has seen volunteers benefit from being part of a worthwhile cause.
"Obviously, this helps a lot of people who might need a meal," Justham said. "But this has also been a great way for us to come together and connect with one other."
Kruger said volunteers do not have to be members of WUMC to take part in the PB&J project. In fact, parishioners within a nearby Catholic church — Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles — routinely lend a hand.
"We have a lot of people who bring friends, and we all just come together and enjoy being part of this worthwhile project," Kruger said. "It's turned out to be a great social activity."
The PB&J project is not WUMC's only service effort. Volunteers also provide 500 muffins to St. James once a month for their breakfast meal program and provide gelatin to St. Benedict the Moor's community meal program in downtown Milwaukee. Both efforts have been taking place more than two decades.
WHAT: PB&J sandwich-making project to benefit people in need
WHEN: 9 to 10 a.m. on third Saturday of each month
WHERE: Wauwatosa United Methodist Church, 1529 Wauwatosa Ave.
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