It’s just a sandwich. That’s what Amy Han thinks sometimes, given the scale of the homelessness in this city, in many cities. So what if she makes hundreds of sandwiches each month and gives them to people who sleep on the streets? What difference can a sandwich make?
Han is not a policy expert. She doesn’t have the backing of a big organization. She’s a nurse at Swedish Medical Center who has watched the problem grow: More people who are experiencing homelessness seemed to come to the hospital every year, more people who need help, who need so much. Around the holidays last year, Han decided to do something, so she raised a couple hundred dollars on GoFundMe and handed out hygiene packs with a co-worker.
That went well — people appreciated the packs — but she didn’t want to do it only when the holiday spirit inspired her. In the face of a homeless crisis that shows no signs of receding, Han had another idea. Something small. Something simple.
She would make sandwiches. And every month she would hand them out on the streets of Seattle.
The line starts at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday in Han’s Beacon Hill kitchen. Drake plays through the TV. Three co-workers from Swedish are here to make sandwiches and then to pass them out.
Han has only one rule: Never impose. Never assume a person needs something. Just ask: Would you like a sandwich?
In theory, Han raises money to pay for the sandwiches and hygiene packs by selling T-shirts and tote bags she’s made, bearing what she calls her effort: “Love Feeds.”
But the reality is the day before the Tuesday sandwich-making session, she went to Costco and spent $100 to buy wheat bread, Tillamook cheese, packs of ham, turkey and roast beef, organic lettuce and bottles of water.
“Whether I sell shirts or not,” she said, “I’m still going to do it.”
As her friends slather mustard and mayonnaise and organize the sandwiches by meat, Han points to a board across the room: pictures of people she has met while passing out sandwiches. They are reminders of why she does this. She’s 32 and has been a nurse for almost five years, so helping people is literally part of her job, but this is different.
“I have a very personal take on it,” she said. “I was in a very emotionally, verbally and a little bit physically abusive relationship for six years.”
During the period, she called her friends to talk about the same problems, over and over, and eventually it felt like some gave up on her. But there was one who always listened, who offered advice and support, no matter how many times they’d had the conversation.
“Maybe it was the billionth time I needed to hear it, but if she had given up on me, who knows where I’d be mentally and emotionally?”
“I look where I am now,” she added, “and I’m not in that relationship, and I’ve grown so much, and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been.”
The experience has given her much more compassion for anyone who is struggling.
She’s thought about expanding, but doesn’t know how she could coordinate more than a few volunteers; right now she loads everyone up in her car.
So she does what she can. She passed out candy for Halloween and Girl Scout Cookies in the spring. Next month, she wants to cook a meal and give haircuts at the Union Gospel Mission downtown.
Han and her co-workers loaded the sandwiches and bottles of water into the back of her car, and together the four of them headed downtown. Han searched for parking in Pioneer Square.
Then she saw a group of people standing in the cold. She stopped on the side of the road.
“We’re going to get pulled over, Amy,” said Melissa Kim, a nursing assistant at Swedish.
This was not an irrational fear, since just a few minutes earlier, Han had done the same thing and a police officer had rather sharply told her she couldn’t stop along the road.
“There’s no one here,” Han said.
Kim rolled down her window. “Would you like a sandwich? And some water?”
A man with stubble walked over, smiled and thanked them.
Han parked and walked to the Union Gospel Mission on Second Avenue. A man in a wheelchair recognized her right away, and she hugged him. She told a woman with glitter on her face how fancy she looked and knelt to listen to a man bemoan his life. For Han, that’s what the sandwich represents: something simple, something made with love, something that allows people to connect, even for only a moment.
“I just want people to come with me and I will put your hand with their hand and now you see how easy it is,” Han said. “Sometimes people are afraid.”
In January, Han is moving to Los Angeles for a new job. One of her co-workers at Swedish has promised to take over the monthly sandwich run.
“If not,” she said, laughing, “I’ll just fly back once a month and do it. This is so close to my heart.”
Han handed a roast beef sandwich to a man on the sidewalk. He ate with one hand because the other was in a blue cast.
“What happened to your arm?” she asked.
“Oh, I was in an accident,” he said. “Did some wrong drugs.”
“When do you take it off?”
“I’m probably overdue. I missed my appointment.”
Han gently nudged his shoulder. “You better go! If you had a marker I would sign your cast.”
They both laughed, and Han walked up the sidewalk. She didn’t hear or see it, but the man with the cast turned and hollered, “Thanks for the sandwich, by the way!”