Katherine Kringelis began volunteering with The Sandwich Project at the age of 12 to help fight food insecurity in her metro Atlanta community. TSP has distributed more than 850,000 sandwiches to people in need of food, and each week, Katherine assembles homemade sandwiches to deliver to one of 60 TSP drop off points across Atlanta.
For more than a year and a half, Katherine has made over 1,000 sandwiches. The fact that her sandwiches end up at someone else’s table motivates her to keep assembling food for others and hopes other young people will join her at TSP and give back at an early age when volunteer opportunities are hard to find.
What inspires you to volunteer?
The Sandwich Project benefits the brothers and sisters referenced in Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” It’s such a fitting verse because it is not necessary to know the other person to know all that’s essential about how we should interact.
Describe your volunteer role with The Sandwich Project.
Sometimes we seek out opportunities, and other times they find us. My start with TSP was a mix of both. In March 2022, I became aware of TSP through Pebble Tossers, an organization that connects youth to service opportunities in metro Atlanta. At almost the same time, the Beta Club at my school announced a service project with TSP. With many new members like me having just joined Beta Club, making sandwiches was a great ice-breaker. TSP would play a similar social role for me a year later, when on my third day at my new school, the student body joined together to make 1,643 sandwiches for TSP.
Every Tuesday or Wednesday, I make sandwiches at home, following the instructions provided by TSP. The sandwiches are then taken to a local host who collects them via contactless dropoff on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, the host takes them to a local charity or TSP sends a driver to get them. The charities then distribute the sandwiches around the metro area. Through its network of 4000 volunteers, TSP has collected over 1 million sandwiches in metro Atlanta since 2020.
What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
On my first day of volunteering at a local food pantry, my first task was a most unexpected one. Instead of stocking shelves for shoppers, I was tasked with removing expired bread and bagging it for a local farmer who regularly collects expired food from the pantry to feed his pigs. I certainly did not have that on my bingo card! With the pantry open to shoppers only on Wednesdays, sometimes perishable donations, like bread, have to be discarded. At the end of another shift, there was lots of bread that would go bad over the next week. Yet, I knew that the TSP network would be in the community the following day distributing its sandwiches. With the blessing of the pantry staff, I took a box full of baguettes and bagels to the TSP host when I dropped off sandwiches that evening. It was such a simple act but was quite fulfilling to match surplus with need and sparked my curiosity about other match-making opportunities that might exist.
What have you learned through your experience with TSP?
My experiences as a volunteer have taught me the importance of balancing long-term solutions with immediate actions. Initially, my focus was on addressing the root causes of various issues. For instance, during a service learning project at school, we tackled the problem of clean water scarcity in South Sudan by raising funds to build and repair water wells. For my Girl Scout high awards, each project has to be designed as a sustainable solution. Teaching a man to fish, as they say, feeds him for a lifetime.
However, many of the world’s challenges are complex and have persisted for centuries despite the efforts of well-intentioned individuals. While addressing the underlying causes is crucial, there are also immediate needs that require our attention and action.
My work with TSP has been a reminder of the starfish story, in which a beachcomber is faced with thousands of stranded starfish. While unable to save them all, the beachcomber starts tossing them, one by one, back into the safety of the ocean. Like that beachcomber, in making sandwiches, I am doing for one what I wish I could do for all.
What are your goals for The Sandwich Project?
I want to do my part to ensure that TSP can continue operating, which for me means focusing on food safety. I make sandwiches in small batches so that supplies can stay refrigerated as much as possible, and always use a cold cooler in the car from the store and to the host.
I hope that TSP can retain its simplicity, as I believe that will help sustain engagement from current volunteers and enable growth. I would love to see TSP expand into other cities so that it can help channel the energy and resources of local volunteers to their neighbors in need.
Why is it important for others to get involved in causes they care about?
Each of us has unique gifts and talents, all of which are needed to fulfill our potential as a community. Who knows what could be accomplished when we gather together to focus on what matters.
In tackling today’s great social challenges, we could borrow the reasoning from JFK‘s famous moon speech. We can choose to do these things, “…not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…” Hunger would not still exist if solving its root causes were easy, and yet solving it is a goal we intend to win.
In the meantime, though, we can be a light for neighbors in difficult circumstances. For the food insecure, a win could be as simple as buying some extra groceries, making a sandwich and sharing it with a neighbor in need.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I hope to inspire others to take action by showing how simple it can be to make a difference. I would love for those who live in Atlanta or Minnesota, where TSP operates, to join in making sandwiches for TSP, either at home or together in groups, or even to become a host. For those who don’t live near TSP, there are dozens of ways to address food insecurity, such as volunteering at or donating to a local food pantry. Or maybe your passion lies elsewhere. Discover what breaks your heart and commit to working towards resolving that issue. Don’t be deterred if the challenge seems overwhelming. As Ronald Reagan wisely stated, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Katherine? Find local volunteer opportunities.