Every Tuesday morning after eight o’clock mass, a group of St. Emydius Church parishioners go to the rectory kitchen, put on gloves and do their part in fighting hunger.
Despite changes in location and membership, the group of senior citizens has been making sandwiches for the city’s soup kitchens since 1993.
On a Tuesday in March, the eight-member sandwich-making team stretch plastic wrap over two tables in the center of the room. Bags of bread are arranged along the kitchen counters while slices of cheese and ham are separated. Mustard and mayonnaise are mixed in a large bowl.
“It’s highly classified information. My wife calls it mustard-mayo magic,” said Michael Hayes, one of the volunteers.
With no announcement, the sandwich assembly line is ready. Three people assemble the sandwiches putting mayo and mustard on one face and cheese and ham on the other. Two other workers place the sandwiches in bags and stack them in grocery bags for transport.
The group usually makes 120 sandwiches a week depending on the ingredients they get. Roles on the production line can change from week to week but some return to the same jobs. Beba Avila is considered the best mustard spreader.
“I call her the fastest hand in the West,” Joyce Calagos said.
Vivian Mullaney, the longest serving member, said the tradition started around 1993 when St. Vincent De Paul was in need of food for a project.
Over the years members have passed away and others have joined, the group has changed locations several times, and different recipes have been used.
Mullaney used to make egg salad sandwiches from scratch and on holidays the group makes turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches.
Despite all the changes nothing has stopped the sandwich making. “I really never thought about how long it would go on,” Mullaney said. “It just continued.”
The process takes about an hour. Members of the group amble into the rectory’s kitchen and begin casually preparing the space. Safeway has always donated bread to the group but the tradition outlasted the store on Ocean Avenue and now the bread comes from the Safeway on Monterey Boulevard. The church pays for the rest of the ingredients.
As quietly as the process started it is over. The plastic wrap is pulled off the table and thrown away. The dishes are cleaned and the sandwich makers leave the rectory one at a time. Michael Hayes then takes the grocery bags full of sandwiches down the rectory’s steps. Later he takes them to Martin de Porres House of Hospitality where the sandwiches are given to visitors as they leave lunch.
Hayes, who volunteers at Martin de Porres on Fridays, said that the kitchen serves meals to the homeless in addition to people struggling to live on a fixed income.
“Two bowls of soup and a sandwich makes a pretty hardy meal,” Hayes said.