Sometimes, all it takes to make a difference is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
On Thursday afternoon, a group of students gathered on College Green to participate in the Jewish Heritage Program’s annual PB&J-a-thon.
The PB&J-A-Thon is JHP’s usual spring semester charity event, during which over 2,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are made and then donated to St. John’s Hospice, a homeless shelter in downtown Philadelphia.
JHP is a Jewish student organization that focuses on the social, cultural and community service aspects of student life. In fact, JHP was founded 20 years ago at Penn, and the program has since expanded and is now a prominent presence at both New York and Temple universities.
The marathon event is led by Rachel Waxman and Aurora Greenberg — graduates of Boston University and Muhlenberg College, respectively. Waxman is a JHP fellow at Penn, and Greenberg at Temple University. All of the 65 Penn student interns of JHP each gave an hour or more of their time to the PB&J-a-thon, helping with setup, cleanup and of course, the actual preparation of the sandwiches.
Waxman said the event began with JHP a few years ago, out of the desire to host a spring community service event that involved not only the student interns but also the campus as a whole.
Wharton junior Brian Engel has been participating in the event since his freshman year and remarked on its dramatic expansion throughout his time here. In his freshman year, only one table was needed to accommodate the sandwich-makers; this year, there were five.
Engel also estimated that the number of sandwiches being donated this year would be around three or four times the number of sandwiches donated two years ago.
While in past years, several a cappella groups have performed at the event to provide added entertainment, due to scheduling conflicts resulting from the PB&J-A-Thon coinciding with Spring Fling weekend, performers were less available. This year, music was simply played from a speaker and more than sufficed.
Engel added that the PB&J-a-thon is “a great way to meet people” and that “doing it on College Green is great because you have people literally just coming over without even knowing what the event is, and just helping out.”
Sure enough, the event attracted quite a few students unaffiliated with JHP who happened to be simply passing by or on their way to class. College sophomore Brittany Dickens was socializing on College Green with two friends when she saw the event poster in the grasp of Benjamin Franklin’s statue.
“Out of curiosity and slight hunger, we decided that we would come over and see what this is all about,” said her friend, 2011 College graduate Ellen Williams.
Both Dickens and Williams stayed for the rest of the event and agreed that it was a very positive experience. “Being in the Penn bubble, it’s so easy to forget that there are people outside who are suffering,” Dickens said. “I think it’s great that they are encouraging the whole Penn community to help give back and to take a moment out of our own lives to think about others.”
As for the PB&J-a-thon being a somewhat unconventional form of charity donation, many participants actually attributed its success to its uniqueness. “As opposed to a canned food drive where you just drop off a can, this actually gets people involved,” Engel said.
Williams agreed. “There’s just something about working with your hands,” she said. “And anybody can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”