Moving America Forward

Once This Woman Realized the Vast Number of Homeless, She Started Making Sandwiches

August 6, 2014
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Once This Woman Realized the Vast Number of Homeless, She Started Making Sandwiches
Stuart/Flickr Creative Commons
Through a simple meal and act of generosity, this nonprofit shows how compassion and some bread can inspire change.

To make a sandwich, all you need are a few simple ingredients: two pieces of bread, some peanut butter and a little jelly. For Erin Dinan, though, that isn’t enough, so she’s added a fourth ingredient — compassion — making her sandwiches, and those made by volunteers at One Sandwich at a Time, not just sources of food — but rather, instruments of change.

Originally from the South, Dinan moved to New York City to study art and photography. One day while running through Grand Central Station, she was struck by her interaction with a homeless man who asked her for help. While many would have kept moving, Dinan gave half of her sandwich to the man without a second thought.

“It’s amazing because the look of gratitude on his face,” Dinan told Starting Good. “He was surprised and grateful that someone was helping him to make it to his next meal.”

It was that moment and the look on his face that inspired her. Going forth, she started packing extra sandwiches in her bag and distributing them to the homeless people on the streets. Sometimes, she would stop and talk with them, while other times she simply dropped it into their laps and kept moving.

From there, the movement spread as her friends and family encouraged her to start the nonprofit that now feeds thousands.

So how does one woman feed New York’s hungry and homeless?

Dinan has turned her small actions into a large scale 501(c)(3) charity. One Sandwich at a Time operates with the help of donations from food suppliers, such as local bakeries and Whole Foods, and local kitchen areas.

The charity hosts sandwich-making events, which businesses donate kitchen space for. The night before, Dinan will drop off all of the supplies and the following evening, volunteers will pour into the kitchen and start making sandwiches at the various stations.The events last for about two hours in the evening, and volunteers, equipped with hairnets and gloves, can stay for as long as they like. The next day, the sandwiches are packed into vans and brought to local shelters and food kitchens to be distributed.

“That’s why it’s grown because people are busy in city, and if they want to pop in and make one sandwich then go home, they have made a difference,” Dinan told Starting Good. “If someone stays for two hours and makes a hundred sandwiches, then they’ve made a huge difference.”

At Dinan’s first sandwich-making event, about 400 sandwiches were made. However, that’s a modest number compared to the 800 to 2,000 sandwiches made at her affairs now.

While One Sandwich at a Time continues to grow in New York City, Dinan hopes to expand the group into other cities, and maybe create chapters across the world.

“There is a deeper level of homelessness that we won’t understand,” Dinan told Starting Good. “So we open our hearts and show compassion, and show them that someone cares and maybe they will realize that they can get out of this.”

Who knew that opening your lunch box and sharing half a sandwich could make such a difference?

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