Spreading the love one sandwich at a time


On any given night it is estimated that roughly 672,000 Americans experience homelessness and hunger, and one of every eight children under the age of 12 will go to sleep hungry. How can we combat this? With a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This common snack, when paired with some dedicated individuals who want to “spread the love,” has helped fight hunger across the country.

The Spread the Love movement began in Canada 10 years ago with a small group of volunteers gathering once a month to make sandwiches for the homeless. After two and a half years, the initiative expanded to other parts of the country, and the mission changed from feeding just the homeless to feeding the hungry in general.

It wasn’t long before the movement spread to Charlottesville. Five years ago, the idea for a University Spread the Love event was born as a way to unite first-year students and donate some food to a local shelter, Hand-to-Hand. Everyone jumped on board, from dining halls to local businesses, and brought to life the philanthropic dream of Alli Flicker, Emily Peters, Marisa Mutty, Kate Jarosik, Alexis Pennington, and Quinn Weber — the organizers of the first Spread the Love event at the University.

Every year since, Spread the Love aims to produce as many sandwiches as the graduation date of the year’s first-year class — the goal for that first event was a staggering 2,012 sandwiches. The group surpassed it by 1,152 sandwiches. Those sandwiches, all from just a day’s work, were given to hundreds of families in Charlottesville.

“[Spread the Love] allows the community to come together and participate in the physical aspect of service,” said Fahima Zaman, Spread the Love Chair and fourth-year College student.

The group’s efforts do not stop on Grounds. Spread the Love volunteers have visited local schools to discuss the need to give back and to raise hunger awareness in the Charlottesville community.

The past five years have seen a lot of growth for the contracted independent organization. What was once an event organized to help unite first years now brings together 400 to 500 student and faculty volunteers each year. The sandwiches made on this one day are distributed at organizations all across Charlottesville, such as Hope Community Center, the Salvation Army, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, First United Methodist Church, Hand-to-Hand, the PB&J Fund and Christ Episcopal Church.

For the first time last year Spread the Love made enough sandwiches to reach other parts of Virginia, and the group plans to do the same this year. “We are able to reach out beyond our close community into areas such as Roanoke and Northern Virginia to provide them with sandwiches,” Zaman said.

This year Spread the Love will be held Saturday from 12-2 p.m. at O-Hill field ahead of National Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week. The goal is 2,016 sandwiches. If history repeats itself, volunteers should easily surpass the mark. In the next five years, who knows how many families this CIO will spread its love to — along with a little peanut butter and jelly?

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