Every weekday afternoon, volunteers from both the Waterville community and the Colby Volunteer Center (CVC) gather at the Universalist-Unitarian Church of Waterville to make, package and serve informal dinners to local residents. Members of the church founded the Evening Sandwich Program (ESP) in October of 1990 in response to the city’s inadequate number of free-meal programs to provide for the area’s hungry.
Gabe Lerner ’12 has been volunteering for the ESP since the fall of his freshmen year and currently serves as the CVC’s liaison with the program. When students on the Hill choose to participate, he facilitates their volunteer schedules, sends weekly reminder e-mails and helps arrange for their transportation to and from the site. Currently, 10 students spend about three hours (one afternoon per week), preparing and serving dinners to the community. Volunteers arrive to make sandwiches at 2 p.m., and the program opens its doors to the public from 4-5 p.m. On average, the ESP serves 100 people each night, and recipients range in age from young children to elderly adults.
The food that the program offers is provided by various sources. “We get some food donated,” Lerner said, “and other food is bought by the government.” A few times last year, the Colby Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (COFGA) donated excess vegetables to the cause. “One time they brought a large amount of purple potatoes. We had a hard time getting people to eat those,” Lerner said, laughing.
Each ESP meal typically consists of a sandwich, a bowl of hot soup, a piece of fruit and dessert. When volunteers are making the sandwiches, they always put together plenty of crowd-pleasers like cream-cheese-and-olive sandwiches, as well as peanut-butter-and-banana.
Even though a sign advertising the free dinner is placed outside the church at 4 p.m., most of the people who receive food are regulars. “They’re not usually homeless,” Lerner explained. “They’re usually working….They can just use the free meal because the money can be saved and spent elsewhere.”
Volunteers with the ESP are not restricted to the kitchen. When they are not making dinner or chatting with guests, they are sweeping and mopping floors, taking out the trash and performing other odd jobs. Once Lerner installed a towel rack because no one else knew how. After their shifts, volunteers drink tea and delve into leftover desserts––a reward for all their hard work.
In addition to members of the church, local community and the CVC, the ESP also attracts a younger group of volunteers. Becket House, a residential treatment program for teenagers with mental health challenges, brings in children aged 13-16 to help with the program. During this past semester, three Becket House residents have been volunteering regularly each week. “They’re fairly rambunctious, but they definitely add flavor to the volunteer environment. I think it’s a perk for them, being able to get out,” Lerner said.
Most students from the College benefit more than they expect to from the experience. “It’s like volunteering,” Lerner said, “but it’s literally just three hours of chatting with people who aren’t Colby students. I enjoy getting a fresh perspective on the world’s events, and I think other Colby volunteers do as well.”
If you would like to volunteer for the ESP, please contact Gabe Lerner at firstname.lastname@example.org.