Florida Gulf Coast University students made sandwiches with inspirational messages for the homeless at Rescue Mission of Fort Myers on Nov. 8 with the hopes of changing lives.
The Brown Paper Bag Project was hosted by Valerie Sterling-Jean, the treasurer of the National Pan-Hellenic Conference at FGCU, and fellow NPHC member Melissa Paniagua. When Paniagua presented the idea to Sterling-Jean, she immediately knew that she wanted to help.
“I love working at homeless shelters and giving my time,” Sterling-Jean said. “I used to live in a third world country, and when I was younger, my grandparents would always make food and go to another part that was in need, and they would cook and give. So this was something for me to just give.”
Paniagua got the idea two years ago. A model that she follows on Instagram did a similar project in which they packed a brown paper bag with a sandwich, rice cake and a sweet note to pass out to those in need. Paniagua was also inspired after her experience working with Community Cooperative in Fort Myers.
“I just thought it was really interesting, and I wanted to do it here, and I had recently started working with CCMI and I had that fire inside of me to do something,” Paniagua said. “I wanted to let the homeless know that we do care. I know it’s a rough time, but we’re here. I just wanted to make a difference in someone’s life.”
The Brown Paper Bag Project conducted by Sterling-Jean and Paniagua had students making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with uplifting notes attached to them in Rescue Mission’s kitchen. NPHC received donations, including bread from Bimbo, and they used NPHC funds for the remainder of their needs. Sterling-Jean thought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches would be the best option because they’re nonperishable.
“We didn’t want to make anything else that they couldn’t hold onto in case they wanted to eat it later,” Sterling-Jean said. “We’re just hoping that we can help someone out there who is in need of food because you never know what you’re going to get the next day. We want to give them the opportunity to eat something and maybe even save something for the next day.”
Paniagua places value not only on feeding the homeless but inspiring them.
“You never know. Something you can say to someone can change their life. Something can stick with them and motivate them to do something. We’re hoping that these quotes will make a difference, lighten up their lives, put a smile on their face. Even if it’s just for the day because that’s still a difference,” Paniagua said.
Students can follow NPHC on Instagram at fgcu_nphc, where they announce many of their upcoming events.