Few students stick around after the last bell but Sarah Coyle has a full classroom at Roosevelt Elementary School on Mondays after 2:20 p.m.
In fact, the Redwood City classroom is buzzing with sixth graders working together to make sandwiches. Jars and tubs of peanut butter, jelly and butter are shared by the students who also share loaves of breads. Using plastic utensils, the children create sandwiches that are then bagged. Some of the kids put little notes inside the bag.
Eleven-year-old Rosa explained she likes to write: "Made it with peanut butter, jelly and love.”
The children stay after class every Monday since October making sandwiches that, later that same evening, will be distributed to local homeless people who take part in Street Life Ministries in Redwood City. The ministry offers service four nights a week at the Redwood City and Menlo Park train stations. Each evening starts with service at 7:30 p.m and food is served starting around 8 p.m.
There's no requirement to participate in the religious aspect to get food, said Executive Director David Shearin. By taking the program to those who are homeless, it's an opportunity to meet with people and get to know what they need.
"It's about building a sense of community. Helping people on the streets and helping them turn their lives around,” he said, adding another element is having the greater community share in that work.
Shearin doesn't claim to have all the answers, but he can reach out for help if he knows what's needed. And that's the goal when meeting people.
The idea started 11 years ago when a local pastor and a group of interns encountered homeless people living by the Menlo Park train station. Food was purchased and shared while they talked. It became a weekly activity through the summer internship. Realizing the excitement and growing relationship, it was decided that this could be a bigger weekly event. Shearin was introduced to the organization four to five years later. He was encouraged to drop by after attending an AA meeting.
"I went down there thinking I would fix everybody,” he said, but soon realized he had lots to learn.
Shearin took over the ministries when the founder welcomed his first child. In recent years, the organization has grown to offering dinner and service four nights a week, gained nonprofit status and has seen a growth in support from other local congregations — both in terms of money and volunteers. Now the challenge is meeting the needs of those they meet like sleeping bags, fresh socks and dental care.
A recent revamping of the website is a step toward helping the public stay involved, said Duncan McNamara, who handles public relations for Street Life. For example, the group is making an effort to include daily statistics about how many people served, the number of sleeping bags handed out and what's needed for the next evening.
The group sees an attendance of 30 to 40 on colder evenings and up to 120 on summer nights, said Shearin. Families donate time, food and food preparation skills to make it happen. Shearin tells volunteers to only make food they would serve their family. He wants nothing less.
Money, of course, is always in need. The team can leverage it to buy more food — like basics for the Roosevelt kids to use when making sandwiches — and sleeping bags at cost. Volunteers are needed for serving the occasional dinner but also for ongoing jobs like sorting through clothing donations each week or driving to pick up and drop off the prepared food, said Shearin. He's often looking for partnerships. The local Chipotle, for example, donates more than 100 pounds of meat each week to support the dinners.
Offering services like health or dental checkups can result in someone having the confidence to take the next steps to make a change, said Shearin.
Overall, the goal is that the community helps those within it. The beauty of the goal is that anyone can help — even kids.
Coyle introduced the idea of making sandwiches on Mondays earlier this school year. Her hope was for students to get a better understanding of the world around them. Parents had to sign permission slips for her to keep students after school for the 20 to 30 minutes it takes to get the sandwiches made but students seem to be enjoying the opportunity to get involved.
On a recent Monday, 11-year-old Ryan and 12-year-old Robert debated how much jelly a sandwich should have so it could really be good. Sebastian, 12, said he likes knowing that he's helping someone get dinner. His opinion was shared by most the students. Perla, 12, explained she had family members who were previously homeless. She didn't want to see others struggle that way.
For more information visit www.streetlifeministries.org. Those interested in volunteering should contact David Shearin at email@example.com. Service of food, prayer and friendship is held 7:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday at the Redwood City train station, 1270 Marshall St., and Tuesday and Thursday at the Menlo Park Train Station, 1120 Merrill St.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.