Feeding Boston’s homeless, one sandwich at a time

Boston Globe— April 15, 2016

A volunteer at a One Sandwich at a Time event in New York.
A volunteer at a One Sandwich at a Time event in New York. 

Erin Dinan
Erin Dinan

As a photographer working in New York City, Erin Dinan often found herself drawn to the city’s homeless community. She’d photograph those living on the street as a way to bring awareness to the issue, and afterward, she’d always leave them a small parting gift.

“I would hand each person a sandwich,” she says, “because I thought it was the least I could do with my own two hands.”

On Saturday, Dinan will carry out that idea on a much larger scale, when her nonprofit — One Sandwich at a Time — and a collection of volunteers prepare 1,000 peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches to be handed out to the area homeless.

The event, which runs from 10 a.m. to noon at Harvard University’s Cronkhite Graduate Center in Cambridge, is partnered with Y2Y Harvard Square, a youth homeless shelter staffed primarily by Harvard students.

A graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Dinan founded One Sandwich at a Time along with friend George Kontogiannis in 2011, as a way to feed the hungry and bring attention to homelessness in New York City. Since then, the organization has fed roughly 100,000 people, and in 2012 was honored by the United Nations at an event for World Humanitarian Day.

Today, the organization conducts multiple sandwich-making events each month, and last Oct. 16, in recognition of World Food Day, prepared more than 11,000 sandwiches during a single event.

“We have done many, many events, but we haven’t done too many outside of New York,” says Dinan, 32. “And this is also exciting because Harvard has been my home for the past year, and it’s been so nice to have the support from the people here.”

Erin Dinan embraced volunteers at an event in New York.

Dinan embraced volunteers at an event in New York.

The sandwiches from Saturday’s event will be donated to Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter, and St. Francis House — both in Boston — and Dinan is working to finalize plans to deliver to a pair of other local shelters, as well. Volunteers, the majority from Harvard and Cambridge, will also pen letters of encouragement to be delivered with the food.

Boston is no stranger to homelessness. Though the city has proven adept at sheltering its homeless, it has struggled with the vast numbers of those living without permanent homes. According to a 2015 US Department of Housing and Urban Development report, Boston last year had the 10th highest total of homeless individuals among major American cities.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, saw the nation’s second-highest increase in homelessness between 2007 and 2015, with a nearly 40 percent jump — from 15,127 to 21,135 people, according to the report.

Saturday’s event represents an effort to bring a measure of comfort to that community.

“The reason I started [this] is that I think we need to start from square one and start with compassion for our fellow human beings,” Dinan says. “It’s almost as simple as that.”