The Citizen Spotlight is a project I started with the Oklahoma Gazette where in each issue we highlight a person in our community who stands out for their leadership, kindness, and good deeds. Read it on the Oklahoma Gazette website here.
Jessica Laster, Sandwiches With Love
When Jessica Laster opens the door to her prep area and storage space in the basement of the The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM) facility, she beams with pride. Her mission, her life’s work, is to lend a hand to help serve and protect those in need. A full-time hairstylist, she started Sandwiches With Love in her free time as a way to give back to people in a space she knows all too well.
Just a few years ago, Jessica was struggling with addiction and homelessness when she found herself able to pull through with help and love.
“I was homeless for about two years when I relapsed for the last time,” Laster said.
My family was just like, we’re done. They’ve been going through it for so long with me, and they just couldn’t do it anymore. They had an apartment that got foreclosed on. So everybody moved out except for some of us who didn’t have anywhere to go, so we just squatted there until we had to leave. That’s when my uncle started to bring me bags of food, and that was a big deal.”
“People were always asking if I had any food. Everybody needed food, and it was the main thing no one had. I still see a lot of myself in the people downtown. They’re not really at the point where they need money; they just need a few basic things, like food. So that’s how all this started, by simply providing these basic things. I just try to love these people where they’re at,” she said.
She started in 2019, making and distributing about 50 sandwiches per week to homeless camps in downtown Oklahoma City. Since Jessica began her passion project, the community need has only grown, with the size and population of these camps nearly doubling.
“We usually feed around 75 people every week, sometimes more, but we’ve been growing a little bit. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve passed out around 120 sandwiches, and we run out every week,” Laster said.
Entirely funded by community generosity and donations, Sandwiches With Love is run solely by Laster and a couple of volunteers who pack up and distribute groceries, toiletries, and pet food to as many people as possible. TEEM offered Jessica a space for food and supply storage and in January, Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler stepped in to help by donating bread and sandwich supplies each week.
“You can’t fix someone’s situation, but you can always give them something healthy to eat,” she said, “And, you know, just let people know that you love them.”