Social Change through Sandwiches and Spuds

Ingredients for the Great Sandwich MakeSandwiches and Spuds

What do sandwiches and baked spuds have in common—other than the fact that they are both comfort food? In Vancouver, the common thread is that both types of food have become a way of reaching out and making a small (or large) difference in the lives of individuals who live in the downtown east side of Vancouver; a neighbourhood characterized by significant levels of poverty and its associated social challenges. In this case, there is an added dimension of comfort that goes along with the food: having one’s humanity acknowledged and honoured. Being on the receiving end of a random act of kindness and generosity is probably the best soul food around—and it often inspires more random acts of kindness and acknowledgement that are “paid forward.”

Compassion in Action

Driven by their compassion for individuals who are often overlooked, ignored, or dismissed, and concerned by the fact that there are people in Vancouver who are going hungry, Kim McMullen the Chief Creative Renegade of Flipside Creative (a Vancouver-based marketing and design studio run by heart-centred people) and Jeffrey Armstrong (a Vancouver-based philosophy of yoga teacher and founder of VASA, the Vedic Academy of Science and Arts) each decided to do something about it. Jeffrey Armstrong hit upon the idea of starting a  SPUD Patrol[1] (serving baked potatoes to homeless individuals) more than 15 years ago while he lived in the South Bay area of San Francisco.

When Jeffrey moved to Vancouver, he saw a need for a SPUD Patrol here, too, and soon enough, the residents of the downtown east side were lining up once a month to get a baked potato. (SPUD Patrol has since branched out to other cities in North America.) Once a month on a Saturday closest to the full moon, Jeffrey, his partner Sandi, and their students and friends would bring foil-wrapped baked potatoes, along with the fixings (butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, chives, salt and pepper) and several tables for their “production line” to the downtown east side. They would set up the tables and then serve baked potatoes (with a side of smiles) until the SPUD supply ran out. I often volunteered with SPUD Patrol, and I heard many individuals ask which organization we were with and many surprised and appreciative “Wow, you guys are awesome!” when we’d reply that we were just a group of people who cared. I heard the same kind of responses this year when I was invited to help out with Flipside Creative’s Great Sandwich Make.

I first heard about the Great Sandwich Make from a member of the Flipside team, Jon, whom I’d met at a conscious business networking event earlier this year. Kim McMullen was inspired about six years ago to put her compassion into action through the Great Sandwich Make. The first year, it was a solo project. Since then, it has grown into an annual event. Better yet, the number of sandwiches and kits distributed to people in the downtown east side of Vancouver has increased every year, thanks to a growing community of friends, clients and colleagues who support the event and keep it going through volunteering their time and/or donating food, cash, and space to make the sandwiches and assemble the care packages. (A care package contains a sandwich, fruit, juice, other tasty goodies, toiletries, and a hand written “You Matter” card or sticker.) Last year (2012), Kim and the rest of the Flipside team along with 25 kind-hearted and eager volunteers put together and then handed out 499 kits with sandwiches (plus another 60 sandwiches sans care packages).

This year, a team of 30-40 enthusiastic and compassionate volunteers gathered together on the evening of March 2nd to make sandwiches, put together the rest of the care packages and write hand written “You Matter” cards. The goal was to make 600 sandwiches and kits, but the team outdid itself and made 854 sandwiches and kits in just over four hours. Now that’s an example of awesome team work and amazing generosity! The next day, March 3rd, dawned sunny and clear, and about a dozen volunteers gathered at the corner of Main Street and Hastings Street to start handing out sandwich kits. We ran out of the kits in about an hour!

assembling the care packages

Small Steps, Subtle but Lasting Impact

Gathering together a community of like-minded, kind-hearted individuals to make and then hand out sandwiches (or baked potatoes) may seem like a “small step” when it comes to solving the chronic social challenges and inequalities that contribute to hunger and homelessness. Yet it can also be a catalyst for big changes. According to recent studies, not only is it the case that  kind acts help to improve the mental health of both the doers and recipients of kindness (Check out this study by the Canadian Mental Health Association.), it’s also the case that random acts of kindness are contagious—in a good way—and they have lasting effects. (Check out this study done at UC San Diego.)

There are a couple of other ways that the Great Sandwich Make and the folks at Flipside Creative are serving as social change agents. First, the activity inspires a sense of community engagement among the team of volunteers. Second, it encourages volunteers to look past the misconceptions or stereotypes about people who may be living with challenging conditions in dire social or economic circumstances, and instead see the humanity and individualism beneath the surface. We’re all human, we all like to be recognized and acknowledged, and we all relate to empathy and kindness. When we “get” that at a deep level, we become more empathetic, more compassionate, and more inclined to start questioning social injustices.

It’s your turn. What random (or organized) acts of kindness have you organized or participated in, either as an individual or as a socially responsible business? What inspired you to organize/participate in the event? What small steps could you take to contribute to big changes in the world?

P.S. If you need some inspiration and ideas, I highly recommend checking out sites such as DailyGood or If you’re curious about how other microbusinesses have found ways to give back to their communities, check out Small Business, Big Change: A Microentrepreneur’s Guide to Social Responsibility at

[1] SPUD not only refers to the slang term for potatoes but also serves as an acronym: Serving Potatoes to Unrecognized Devas. “Deva” is a Sanskrit term for divine being.

March 6, 2013 · Susan · 4 Comments
Posted in: Social Justice, Social Responsibility, Spirituality

4 Responses

  1. Kate - March 7, 2013

    Love this post Sue. Very inspiring, and the power of “many hands making light work.” Makes me more open to this kind of contribution, as I tend to want to go further upstream to the policy and structural causes of poverty and disconnection, etc. As always, it’s both/and, not either/or.
    Love Kate

  2. Sue - March 9, 2013

    Thanks for your comment, Kate, and I’m glad to hear to hear the post has inspired you to be more open to different kinds of contributions. I also fully recognize the need to do the educating that will change the policies and structural inequalities further upstream. It is indeed a case of it being both/and rather than either/or. It is also the case that we need to recognize the value of both approaches.


  3. Pam - March 10, 2013

    I’ve heard about the spud patrol before, and I love it. The Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation that I’m a member of did something similar last summer. Every Monday at 11, from May through September, we fired up a grill and served lunch to homeless persons in our rural county. This was not a random act, as we did it every week, but it was definitely a catalyst both for members of our own congregation and other members of the community.

    And we didn’t just serve lunches (with salads and fruit and deserts and beverages), we also sat down and broke bread with these people. Often you couldn’t tell who were the servers and who was being served.

  4. Susan - March 10, 2013

    Hi Pam,

    Thanks for commenting. I remember you telling me about weekly lunches the Social Justice Committee served throughout the summer. It’s great that the members of the congregation also sat and broke bread with those being served–what a great way to make the event feel more like a block party or social gathering where the hosts join the guests once everyone has been served, rather than one group doing something for another group. (I hope that makes sense…)

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