Call it an epiphany in the middle of the night. One referred to it as a “prompting.” Could have been God calling. Either way, Linda Garrett woke up.
“There was this voice that said I needed to make sandwiches,” she said.
Yep, make sandwiches.
This was nine years ago, and Linda still remembers it like it was yesterday.
“It sounded like this man standing over my bed yelling at me. I sat straight up in bed and turned to my husband and he’s sound asleep,” she said. “Well, obviously that was something.”
Later, she mentioned the voice to Paul Kirchner, pastor of Lihue Lutheran Church, where she attended.
“I have this sense that Christ wants me to make sandwiches,” Kirchner recalled Garrett saying. “What does that mean?”
He wasn’t sure.
But an answer came soon enough.
A few days later, Linda read about a Salvation Army program to feed the needy and hungry.
“One thing led to another,” she said.
She and her husband Ken began making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their Kauai home, placing them in plastic bags and taking them to the Salvation Army to distribute to the hungry.
They started out making 35 or so each week. Later, it grew to 100. And it continued growing, to another home, and eventually to the fellowship hall at Lihue Lutheran Church.
And yes, it’s still going stronger, bigger and better than ever, primarily targeted at children.
Thursday morning, some 20 volunteers, a mix of locals and visitors, teamed their talents to make 400 “Mobile Munchies” in standard brown, paper lunch bags.
Each person had specific duties.
Some applied the peanut butter. Others, the jelly. A few, both.
“You lay out a loaf of bread like you’re dealing out cards,” said Joyce Obenauer as she stood, steady at her task.
One opened the plastic bags, another placed carrots inside. A few hurried to and from the kitchen, transporting food and supplies. Each bag was checked before being sealed shut and readied for delivery.
To speed the process, jars of peanut butter are warmed, and jelly is run through a mixer, to make spreading fast and efficient.
“We’ve gotten it down to a science,” said volunteer Susan Pittman.
It’s fun and fast-paced, with lots of smiles and laughs. Pastor Kirchner kept spirits high and volunteers hustling as he wandered about, pouring cups of coffee, smiling, chatting and offering good cheer.
“It’s just fun to watch it transpire,” he said.
Once finished, each bag included a P&J sandwich on fresh wheat bread, a 1/4 cup of raisins, baby carrots, a small bag of chips, a granola bar and a fruit drink.
“It’s a hearty meal,” Pittman said.
Finally, those assigned delivery head out in their cars, each going a different direction.
Since the program started, through 2013, Garrett estimates they’ve made and distributed 136,340 Mobile Munchies. It’s fed a lot of children, and adults too, including the homeless, who otherwise might have gone without a meal that day.
The meals are distributed to Boys and Girls Clubs in Kapaa and Waimea, Nana’s House, Lihue Town Court after-school program, Hale Hoomaulu in Kapaa and the Kokua Kitchen in Lihue.
“We met a lot of good people who need a hand. That’s what this is all about,” Garrett said. “It’s good for the island. It’s a real good thing.”
She estimates each bag costs $2. The program runs about $34,000 year. It is funded by donations, fundraiser and grants.
“We’ve been very blessed in finances,” Garrett said.
Ken Garrett recalled in those early years of the program when the count climbed to 100 weekly lunches, and wife Linda was going to be gone to the Mainland.
“I can’t do it all by myself,” he told her, only a little worried.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to go it alone. More people joined in, like Susan Pittman and husband. They started making some 50 sandwiches at their home. Eventually, the operation moved to the church, where in the first weeks, four couples needed four hours to make 200 sandwiches.
“Now, we’re doing 400 sandwiches and we’re done in about two hours,” Pittman said.
And these days, Ken Garrett happily tackles any job necessary to make the meals.
“It’s fabulous,” he said.
Richard “Obie Obenauer, a three-year volunteer, has the first step in the process as he prepares the bags in a backroom. He places the chips, juice, granola bar and raisins inside before they’re brought out front to the assembly lines.
He jokes about why he’s got the task of working solo, away from the fellowship hall crowd.
“I don’t get along with people, so they stay away from me,” he said, laughing.
He only got pulled in, he jokes again, because he had no choice.
“I have to drive the car because my wife comes in. I’m afraid of her driving,” he said, chuckling.
But Obie, like visitor Gloria Parker, loves being in the middle of Mobile Munchies.
Parker said she finds it fun putting the meals together and talking with folks. Plus, the Chicago-area woman is a dedicated volunteer to any good cause.
“I see the result of the program helping people. That’s what it’s all about,” Parker said.
Pittman said the program doesn’t only benefit those eating the PB&J sandwiches.
“We found that it’s more of a ministry for us as we gather every Thursday and share our lives. We help and we laugh and we joke and we have a great community. It’s wonderful Not only are we serving others, but it serves us as well.”
“It’s exciting. It’s not just getting 400 sandwiches out to kids who are hungry, but watching the people as they gather, because they are the church. They know each other, they care for each other,” he said. “The joy they have doing it is just remarkable. It’s not a job, it’s a mission.”