Helping our partners grow: A sandwich, made to order

Pastor Mike makes a sandwich

Dean already has his order planned when he gets to the front of the line at First Baptist Vallejo: Roast beef and yellow cheese, with mustard and mayonnaise. While there is an option to have his sandwich toasted, today he’s not in the mood. 

“Sometimes I get it toasted, sometimes maybe not,” he says.  

It’s the kind of meal choice most of us make every day. But for unhoused neighbors who eat meals at soup kitchens, those small decisions are rarely theirs to make. 

First Baptist Vallejo is looking to change that.

Thanks to the support of our hunger-fighting community, the soup kitchen recently received an agency enhancement grant to purchase a mobile salad bar. With this new equipment, they hope to put decision-making power back in the hands of the people they serve. 

On this day, Dean has a choice of three meats and cheeses for his sandwich, in addition to toasting. His choice of roast beef is popular, but Ashley – who is waiting in line with her dogs Stormie and Barbie – prefers a toasted pastrami. The friend she came with wants a little of every meat. 

Pastor Mike, who oversees the soup kitchen, says he sees a shift in the lunchtime mood every time the salad bar comes out. 

“If they get our bagged lunches, they get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and they get a meat sandwich. They don’t get to choose,” he said. “Here, I hear people saying, ‘hey I got to make my sandwich the way I wanted. I got to order it. Look at this.’”

Doing something different

First Baptist has been feeding neighbors for more than two decades and working with the Food Bank almost as long. 

As one of our 260 partner agencies, First Baptist receives support from our hunger fighters like you in the form of food, organizational assistance and grants. In return, partner agencies deepen our reach in the community, serving people in the places and ways that work best for them.

At the start of the pandemic, First Baptist moved its meal services outside for safety reasons. The mobile salad bar can be wheeled in and out of its cafeteria space as needed. An ice machine – also purchased with the Food Bank grant – helps keep food chilled and safe for serving. 

“I’m tired of the same kind of food,” says Pastor Mike. “We wanted to do something creative, something different.” 

It’s not the first time organizers at First Baptist Vallejo have taken an unusual approach to feeding their neighbors, many of whom are unhoused. The church’s original meal program was a community barbecue in the wee hours of the morning. It still takes place at 2 a.m. every Saturday. 

“A good meal always lifts people up”

Improving the meals he serves is always on Pastor Mike’s mind, whether he’s drawing on comfort foods from his childhood or working with volunteers to add Filipino flavors to existing dishes.

“The Bible says ‘treat others as you’d like to be treated’ and I like to be treated with lots of good food,” he says. “And I like to be treated with food that looks good and tastes good. So it just goes from there.” 

Dean, who lives in a nearby backyard, says meals at First Baptist help to make his disability and CalFresh benefits last a little longer each month.

“I love it,” he says of the sandwich bar. The only thing he’s missing today is a pickle. 

While the people he serves have many reasons for being there, Pastor Mike says that for neighbors struggling with feelings of hopelessness or otherwise having a bad day, providing small moments of dignity goes a long way – whether that’s an easily-accessible bathroom, a place to do laundry or the ability to order a sandwich just how they want.

“A good meal always lifts people up,” he says. 

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