Peanut Butter Jelly Time

March 14, 2017
Kevin Derrick

Putting jelly on a sandwich

It’s Thursday at lunchtime, and North Bennet Street School students crowd both sides of three long folding tables in the expansive Windgate Gallery.

They’ve been summoned to the space over the School’s loudspeaker just moments ago, and before them are a mouth-watering array of fixings: Bananas, oranges, and apples. White and wheat breads. Peanut butters of the creamy, crunchy, and “natural” varieties. Jams, jellies, and preserves. Nutella and Fluff, for those with a sweet(er) tooth. The students may have entirely different backgrounds, hand skills, and career goals. But when it comes to lunch, everyone agrees PB&J Thursdays are hard to beat.

“Chunky peanut butter with raspberry preserves is the best combo,” Kate Levy BB ’17 is quick to point out, as she draws the sweet spread across a slice of bread. A friend chimes in, “Six parts peanut butter to one part jam. Eat, and follow up with second sandwich.” A winning formula. “My go-to is an open face PB & Fluff,” said Tessa Wood PT ’17, in between bites. “I always kick myself afterwards because I’m gluten free… but it’s worth it.”

A conversation with the School administration reveals the lunch’s origins. “It started during that terrible winter we had a couple years back, and was really just a way to help students from having to go outside in the weather,” Provost Claire Fruitman CF ’96 shares. “It turned out to be wildly popular, so much so that we decided to make it permanent event.”

PB&J Thursdays were extended through May that year, and are now enjoyed weekly during the nine-month academic calendar. A few years later it was moved to Wednesdays to better accommodate weekly events at the School, and to support students with allergies, it’s now known simply as “Lunch Break,” with other types of nut butters and gluten-free bread available.

While avoiding weather is a sometimes-blessing, the gathering has a number of other benefits besides: students get a well-deserved break from their projects, they can interact with others outside of their program, and they save a bit of money too.

“It’s so much better than an expensive lunch in the North End,” cites Brooke Esplin VM ’19.

National PB&J Day happens each year on April 2, and ideas on how best to celebrate it this year are already circulating. Suggestions range from adding crackers to the fixings, to bringing a grill in for Elvis-styled sandwiches (peanut butter and banana, toasted).

Though the festivities around that day may be anyone’s guess, what’s not in question is the future of PB&J Thursdays/Lunch Break at NBSS. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the enormously popular weekly favorite will be fully funded, from fresh fruit and breads to a broader selection of a favorite, Teddie All Natural Peanut Butter. Wholesome foods means happier, harder-working students, after all.

As for one of the less healthy options, Brendan Sullivan CF ’18 exclaims, “Midwesterners already took a vote… no Fluff! What is that stuff anyway?”

This story is part of the Winter 2017 issue of Benchmarks magazine. See more Benchmarks stories here, or download a pdf of the entire issue.

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