Humanity, Hunger, Insert Heart Here, Poverty

I don’t know how to solve world hunger but I make a pretty legitimate peanut butter & banana sandwich.


If you don’t know it by now it is about time you did.

I, Hannah Brencher, make the world’s most phenomenal peanut butter and banana sandwiches. My office building is next door to where they shoot the Rachel Ray Show and the producers are practically out the door following the waft of my PB&B sandwich as it shimmies from the confines of its tin foil.

Ok, maybe I am exaggerating. But still, my sandwiches are delectable. Pretty legitimate. Pretty much remarkable and I would share one with you if sandwiches didn’t get so soggy in the mail.

We should probably rename this blog to “Life on the 4 Train” because I am pretty certain that most of my stories develop right there on the 4, while sitting between two perfect strangers as I bask in our commonality of going somewhere together.  But every morning last week I encountered some individual who made their way into my subway car, delivered a speech fueled by what label to be as dignity, and then kindly asked people for food. Food specifically. Not money. Not a home. But something small to soothe that rumble that we have all experienced at one point or another.

I see it every single week, every time that I make my way into Manhattan. And it always calls to mind the days when my mom would send me into the city with three sandwiches delicately wrapped inside of my bag. Not sandwiches for me. Sandwiches for less fortunate than I, with tummies that tended growl more fiercely than my own. If I could only thank my mother for one thing in this world it would be the lesson she packed into everyone of those sandwiches that were never for my hands: Don’t do good. Do right.

Last month I began using five of my dollars from my 25-dollar weekly stipend to buy stamps for my love letters (they are still coming! Don’t you worry… Over 150 letters in the works (Yikes)). This month is the start of taking five more dollars and putting it towards a loaf of whole wheat bread and a bag of bananas (potentially switching it up with a classic PB&J). I already have peanut butter. Trust me, peanut butter manages to find its the way to the the topic of my care package lists every time. With my extra supplies I will pack an extra sandwich to carry everywhere that I go.

To be honest, I hesitate to even publish this. I am not attempting to build a pedestal out of love letters and sandwiches, that will never be the case.  I am simply tired of  a world that can makes us feel like we are helpless and that we should not even try. Someone will scoff at this post, I know that for certain, because the effort of making a sandwich for someone else is so very small. It is not a country ratifying a new law or a peace treaty but it causes the rumble in someone’s stomach to surrender for just a little while. For that reason alone, I would make a sandwich every single day for the rest of my life.

The point of my packing an extra sandwich in the morning is this: If I was hungry, I would want someone to stop and feed me. Not walk by. Not turn the other cheek. Not say “Not my problem.” Because it is my problem. If my neighbor is hungry then it is my problem, just as much as if my own mother were hungry. Mother Teresa, the remarkable individual that she was and is and always will be, has plastered a good quote or two upon my day-to-day life. The problem is not lurking within the big heady words like genocide or malnutrition or terrorism, it is in the fact that we have forgotten that we belong to one another. That my hungry neighbor in Uganda or India is just as important as my hungry neighbor next door.

I could care less if someone ever identifies me as a girl passing out sandwiches to the hungry, I just want the one holding the sandwich to know that it is not an accident. Them & That Sandwich Is Not An Accident. Because, let’s be real, some days we just want to know that someone is thinking about us when they rise in the morning, as they pour their morning coffee,  as they take that first hearty sip. I want someone to know that I made that sandwich especially for them, for they are just as important as my best friends and the role models I admire most. That I woke up that morning and I thought specifically about them as I smoothed on the peanut butter and cut up the banana. It is nice to be considered, don’t you agree?

Yes, we all know that I would be perfectly happy toting a dozen morning glory muffins into the United Nations every day to pass out to world leaders in hopes for world peace, but I am not fueled by unsteady idealism. I know these sandwiches will not change anything. Nothing at all really.

I cannot solve world hunger and I would adore shaking the hand of the man or woman who steps up to the challenge. That person will be my best friend. I will throw parties for that individual daily. However, I can make ten of the best peanut butter and banana sandwiches that this city has ever seen and make sure those lunchtime favorites meet the hands of someone who asks. Simple. Ordinary. Entirely Doable.

We can beat ourselves up on a daily basis over the broken world and the ways in which it wont change. We can talk about policies and treaties and petitions, which are all very well and good. But another person dies of hunger every second seconds. In the time it took you to read this post about 60 people died of totally preventable causes rooted in malnutrition. And so where do we start when that is the problem? I don’t really know that but I do know how to make a pretty sweet sandwich. So I’ll just start there…

Side Notes: It works out perfectly that this post should drop during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a week where ideally we would all sift through the heartbreaking statistics and find faces instead of numbers. But even when we dance into Friday and the week flips to the back of the calendar, hunger will still exist. Bellies will go on rumbling well into the holidays. Please continue to keep the souls of the hungry in your thoughts and prayers as we inch closer to a day defined by gratitude and food. Find a local food bank. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Eat the leftovers instead of letting them go to waste. Simple. Ordinary. Entirely Doable.

I would love to hear of any ways you are participating in this national awareness week or joining the fight against hunger, in general.

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23 thoughts on “I don’t know how to solve world hunger but I make a pretty legitimate peanut butter & banana sandwich.

  1. This gave me goosebumps.

    A few months back, I started keeping every dollar bill I have in a small hide-away drawer in my car (it’s such an odd feature, I like to think it was designed for this). When I walk around, particularly in the city, I tuck a few into my pocket.

    Every time I see someone holding a sign on the side of the road, or when someone approaches me and asks for help, I hand them a couple of dollars. People constantly remark, “What a waste – they’ll just use it for drugs or alcohol.”

    I don’t believe that, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. Once given away, it’s not mine any longer. I can only be grateful that I’ve never found myself in their position, and therefore, I feel utterly unable to judge.

    • That is so awesome, Michelle. Thanks for sharing! I used to do the same thing, always wondering where that money would go. But I realized, just as you did, that it really does not matter. It is just paper. In my view, it was never really mine to begin with. I don’t deserve to have more than another ya know, why not share?

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Peanut butter is SUPPER expensive in Italy. can you dab some PB on a letter for me one day : ) Jk. This was such an inspiring post. I love the part about your mom giving you three sandwiches to take into the city with you. Always thinking of others before yourself. I always said the three things i would want on a desert island with me would be bread, jelly and PB….endless supplies, just to be able to live. Thanks for the eye opening post on how easy and SIMPLE it is to make a difference in someone’s life today with something as simple as two pieces of bread wrapped around deliciousness.

    • Is it bad that I count down the days when you and I will sit down with one another over coffee and talk about all of this face to face. You are amazing Libs. SO very lucky to know you.

  3. You’re a gem, Hannah. If everybody in this world would take the little effort of making an extra sandwich each day, the world would be a better place.

    I’ve volunteered and fed the homeless for a few weekends. I want to do it again soon.

    • You should! Would love to hear all about it. There is this ridiculously cool place in the Bronx called POTS (part of the solution) and they serve the homeless but restaurant style… I am scheduled for some time during the holidays. Cannot wait!

  4. Three things:
    1. I’ve never had a peanut butter and banana sandwich, but that picture makes them look wonderfully delicious.
    2. I love that you’re putting almost half your weekly spending into changing the world. It gives me a little more of a clear view of what’s really important in the world and puts things into perspective.
    3. I love that I can have no idea that it’s national hunger and homelessness awareness week, but as soon as I read one of your posts I know exactly what’s a Big Deal right now and what new world-changers and Big Ideas there are in our midst.

    • 1. You absolutely need to have one. They will change your life foreverrrrr. Oh my goodness, I cannot gush enough.

      2. It would be great if more people knew about this… ah, I believe I have found my purpose in life through this absence ha ha.

      Thanks for always reading love, it means the world.
      I expect you will be joining my in NYC next year…. many a coffee dates to come.

  5. i prefer peanut butter and honey, but i think that’s just because i don’t like bananas. i know, i’m a freak. 🙂

    it’s so true that food can really make a difference. i’ve seen it writ large twice.
    1) i went to san francisco for business in 2006, and we went to dinner with some people from our CA office. on the way out, someone was holding the door for me. “thanks,” i said, because i’m southern and it’s what i do. “no problem,” the holder responded. “hey, got a spare dollar or something?” i looked up, and the holder was this guy, late teens, pretty disheveled, a little banged-up, but smiling anyway. i said, “sorry, i don’t…” then i looked at the giant box of leftover noodles and steak in my hand. “but i do have this steak and noodle thing. you want it?” his eyes lit up. “seriously? yeah! that’d be amazing!” i handed it over, and he sat down right there on the sidewalk and dug in. “thanks, lady! this is amazing!” i’ve never forgotten the smile he gave me.
    2) i went to memphis with my ex-husband in 2005, right after hurricane katrina hit. we were outside a museum when a panhandler came up and asked him for money. he said, “don’t have any to spare, but if you want, i’ll buy you lunch.” the guy paused, then said, “sure, man.” and they took off down the street together. my ex was gone for about 35 minutes, and i was nothing short of terrified. i mean, god only knows what could’ve happened? but he came around the corner after the meal with a smile a million miles wide. “that was one of the coolest things ever. that guy was AMAZING.” apparently, they sat and ate sandwiches together, talking and laughing like old friends.

    it’s just food. but really, it’s so, so much more.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your stories on the blog. I loved reading both of them. Especially the second one, that was awesome! And you are spot on, food goes a long way… I am glad to share that notion with so many.

  6. Is that an honest-to-goodness picture of your PB&B? Because that’s gorgeous. I want one right this second.

    Additionally, I have had some strange experiences with this. I have been approached for money, usually saying they need to buy food. I have offered to buy them food, but they have refused. I have also given them a couple dollars, only to be asked if I had any more, because that won’t be enough for Whataburger.

    But, when I was in Ethiopia, this never happened. We gave out food, we gave out money (never to children), we helped however we could, and you could see the relief washing over their faces.

    I hope this goes well for you. If you have positive experiences with this, I’d be willing to paypal you a few extra bucks a month to expand it. There is little opportunity to do this sort of thing in my small town, so I’d love to participate.

    • That is why I figure you cannot go wrong with food, ya know? Most of the people on the subways are asking for spare food.. And so that prompts me to give to them. Thus far it has been recieved with arms open. I feel like its just a matter of chance that I would be so blessed you know? So I need to pass it forward to those who have not been as lucky in their lives.

      And definitely, that would be amazing. I would love to make sandwiches in your name.. I will keep the blog posted with progress for sure.

  7. Hi Hannah,
    Stopping world hunger one PB & B sandwich at a time works for me! If we each do something instead of talking about doing something then something might actually get done.

    I’ve heard folks say, (or rather hide behind), I can’t solve the world’s problems so I’m just going to concentrate on my own life.

    Yes, you can solve them by doing whatever you can because all those solves piece together to form the bigger solution.

    Can I donate a jar of peanut butter or jelly for your sandwich-making efforts or a food gift card to buy bread and bananas? If you send me your address via my email, I will send you a jar of organic PB/jelly, etc. to help make sandwiches for hungry people on the 4!

    Thx, Giulietta (check out my Forward Young Girls Out of Poverty.)

    • I def will. Will hop over there in a bit.

      You can absolutely donate a jar of peanut butter or jelly, that would be phenomenal and it means the world.

      My address is: 2342 Andrews Avenue, 3rd Floor. Bronx, NY 10468.

      You are amazing.. If you would like to write a few notes on some napkins from you I can definitely tuck those into the sandwiches as well.

  8. I adore the fact that you do this. Here in the city we have a lot of people in the downtown area who ask for change, and usually, if I’m with D, we tell them we’ll take them for a sandwich or coffee or something instead. The smiles on their faces afterward are just – well, words can’t describe. Thank you, on behalf of the world, for everything you to do make it a better place. ❤

  9. I love reading your blog–but I definitely loved this entry! I think the world would be SUCH a better place if we all gave a little to each other. I am so impressed that you are taking so much of your own money and time to helping people out. I have really received a lot of motivation from this entry. There’s a road I pass by several times a week and there is always at least one person standing with a sign. I have always been too shy to do anything, but this is a great idea and something that will immediately help someone. Thanks for the idea!! 🙂

    • No problem Becky. If one person is inspired then it has served its purpose. Money is a come and go thing, I know that I will probably never be without it, might as well give it towards something good.

      And what is with this absense of the message to give to one another? Pretty sick and tired of that, I guess my next job will be spreading that message a little more.

      Thank you for reading.

      Best,

      Hannah Katy

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