"Sandwiches to the Rescue" - A Firefighting Vignette from Gail Small

A timely vignette from Gail Small, co-author of "Joyful Volunteering: Making a Difference." With the record heat and fire dangers (including a fire that has burned through the night in Thousand Oaks), Gail shares this positive story to look at the positive and applaud our firefighters for all that they do. 

Sandwiches to the Rescue

It was the fall of 1993 when the skies of Newbury Park, California, and surrounding areas became dark billowing clouds of gray. In the near distance, we could see the raging flames and other effects of the out-of control Malibu fire. The smell became stronger, and the haze in the air increased. No one could play outside because of the awful air quality.

As a teacher, I had to decide what to do with my students on those fiery days. What was I to do? I sent home a letter to parents and asked them to send supplies for making lunches, although I actually was hoping I would receive magic ingredients and a solution to my dilemma. The minutes, hours, and days needed something different and unique, and my basic idea was pretty simple: we would make sandwiches and fun food, hoping that the smell of cooking would sweeten our days and that our worries about what was going on outside would be gone from our minds for a little while.

The next day was full of surprises and possibilities! Wonderful ingredients from home pantries made their way into our classroom. We had interesting discussions while we talked about quantity, equivalents and creative cooking. We played music, and our spirits were revived by the comfort of doing something unusual at school.

Sandwiches are ideal for lunch because two pieces of bread can be the home for many a filling. Cheese, butter, and meats and brown, white, and rye breads were combined so that even the fussiest eaters were able to prepare a variety of sandwiches they liked.

Like an art project, we arranged finger sandwiches in clever combinations on cardboard platters. What might have seemed like wacky flavors became perfect creations. Some knowing family brought in a very huge sack of potatoes and a food dehydrator. That was my first time using such equipment, and it was an intriguing endeavor. We worked together, washing and peeling lots of potatoes. Next, the sliced potatoes of many sizes were placed on trays that were stacked inside the dehydrator. The slices dried and shrank to a crispy and flavorful potato chip, complete with the love put into them.

The children were excited about these “homemade” lunches, which we intended to deliver to the firefighters, who camped out at the local park between long shifts. The firefighters’ faces were smudged with the ashes and smoke they encountered while fighting to save people, animals, homes and land. Our faces were dirty and caked with food, evidence that dedicated children had prepared lunch. Parents generously volunteered to deliver the homemade sandwiches, potato chips and other comfort foods to the busy rescue crew. Our classroom community lunch became a lunch for a community at large — a lunch of variety, fuel, flavor and inspiration that many would long remember.

Firefighters for the catastrophe were brought in from faraway places. I used a pay phone to make a call, and next to me I heard a fireman speaking to his family saying, “I don’t know exactly where this is, but I am in some town called Newbury Park.” I could see the smile on his face beneath all the soot and dirt, and I heard him continue, “The people here sure are thoughtful. Even the children made us lunch.” He added that the notes of gratitude and inspiration that were included with the food were like a rich dessert that made the firefighters ready to defeat the fire and save more lives.

This lunch became an act of giving, helping, and reaching out to others, and was a delicious experience!

Quoted: Permission from Gail Small (Also appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul Kids in the Kitchen 2007)

JOYFUL VOLUNTEERING: Making a Difference  is a new book by Gail Small and Ninon de Vere De Rosa. To order send $15+ $5 postage to 2060-D Avenida de Los Arboles #590, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Connect with Gail for speaking engagements and more info at GailSmall.com