The smell of sourdough followed Jared Hammet as he stepped out of his car. He made his way to the trunk to grab his affectionately named “rolly-thing” to cart in his day’s bread. He stacked boxes and bags onto a 1×1 wooden platform supported by rickety casters. It trembled as it was carted down the parking lot. Hammet worried how much sugar would be left on the cookies as he made his way over the concrete.
This is a routine of sorts for Hammet. He’s the minister at First Presbyterian Church of Tifton and every week he brings a load of baked goods to the Branch Student Center as a part of his weekly good works in the name of Christ, but also in the name of humble hospitality.
THE ULTIMATE HOSPITALITY PIECE
“Bread is the ultimate hospitality piece,” Hammet said to me once. “If you go into Logan’s or Longhorns, or almost anywhere, they’ll bring you bread,” he explained.
“Even a bar knows, you put out pretzels- which is just yeast, flour, sugar, water and salt.”
Hammet has had a long-lasting fascination with the baking of bread fermenting from a study-abroad trip to France during the second half of his junior year in college. There he experienced freshly made baguettes, croissants, and éclairs that started baking at 4 a.m. that same morning.
“My life, up to a certain point, had been Krispy Kreme donuts and Sunbeam bread and this was just eye-opening,” he said.
“I used to love a Little Debbie swiss roll. Slice that thing sideways and it was the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen and then you’d go to these bakeries in France and you go, ‘Holy moly! Little Debbie has got nothing.’”
The closest you could come to that kind of baking in Tifton are places like Panera or Mi-lady Bakery. And when Hammet learned Panera gave away it’s daily bread as part of its Day-End Dough-Nation program, he signed up.
At first, it was a way for his church members to donate to different people in the community, but the hull was so overwhelming that they didn’t know what to do with it all every week. They would donate much of it to Brother Charlie’s Homeless Shelter, but they already picked up a load every week from Panera too.
“What would Brother Charlie’s do with that much bread?” Hammet asked me, “What did the disciples do with the twelve baskets of bread? Someone had to haul that stuff… ‘Alright Jesus, next time let’s change the dosage a little.’ What would Brother Charlie’s do with a miracle?”
Hammet was reminded of his father when he reached this dilemma.
“I loved seeing the impact my father had on campus ministry. I recall my father working on a project. I went out to the shop and asked ‘What are you doing?’ He was making these 3×3 platforms with four casters, one at each corner.
“(His father) said, ‘I see these students, these freshmen in particular—they got all this stuff and they have to take all these trips back and forth. And what they need is something to put their stuff on so they don’t have to take as many trips.’ He saw a problem. He saw an opportunity for, I wouldn’t call it ministry, but helpfulness, and that it would be done in Christ’s name.”
From what Hammet explained to me, his mission wasn’t to bring an ABAC presence to the Presbyterian Church, but rather he was inspired to do as both his fathers did, his earthly and heavenly.
“(Jesus) went out and found all kinds of people,” he said. “The Miracle of the 5,000 went to the people who are most vulnerable. He found people wherever they were with whatever stuff they had going on.”
And for a while, he came to Panera every Sunday before they closed to take home what wasn’t sold.
Up until a manager had to turn him away because he wasn’t approved by Panera corporate.
He’s working on the applications now to able to start again in fall 2019.
But for the purposes of this story, Hammet decided to bring me by Panera to see the process for myself.
PICKING UP THE DOUGH-NATION
Panera normally closes at 9 p.m. but this night was different. A piece of paper was taped on the door saying, “Sorry for the inconvenience but Panera Bread will be closing at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 31 for employee training.”
Inside, the bakers prepare tomorrow’s bread and the employees sample new menu items. It was beginning to rain as I walked up to the door. I knocked and, expecting him, Hammet opened the door to greet me. The regional manager was there tonight and she made sure the employees packed up all they could for their daily donation. She introduced herself to Hammet and me and offered us coffee and pizza. We gladly accepted.
Hammet’s a moon-faced man who likes to dress sharp. His marbled rimmed glasses provide him with a sophisticated look and he prides himself in dress.
As he and I ate, Summer Walker, still dressed in her Sunday outfit, began packing up pastries, rolls, loaves, and baguettes for the donation. She loaded the food onto a small, black cart. Walker, with a smile on her face, pushed the cart out to Hammet.
This was her favorite time of day. The crunching of paper bags sounded the end of a long work day. There’s also just something satisfying about boxing and bagging foods she knows will go out and help people.
Walker rolls the cart out, and with the help of a few of the employees, Hammet loads all of the food into his Mazda and heads home for the night.
Due to this minor setback of not having Panera donations for weeks, Hammet improvised.
As a minister at a Presbyterian church, he knows a few grandma’s who enjoy baking. One particular “grandmama” picked up the tab and started baking three cooking trays full of butter cookies, muffins and snaps every week for the students.
The shortage was solved for a while thanks to Grandmama’s baking, but Hammet had a bit more than he could handle after Panera’s donation that night.
BREAKING BREAD IN BRANCH
The next day, Hammet, dressed in all green from his corduroy pants to his knitted sweater, rolled his overloaded cart in through the loading dock ramp outside Branch. He called down the elevator and told me he had only just learned about it and had been carrying things in a hard way since he started back in fall semester 2018.
He started on the second floor and checked the staff lounge for any of the custodians first. He knows his goods make a mess, so giving the custodians first dibs is his way of diplomacy.
Then he rolled to where the students were.
First, he tried the Stallion Newspaper’s office. It’s quiet on Monday mornings after they spent the weekend making the paper.
After dropping off a few things in The Stallion, he rolled into the common area on the second floor of Branch.
“Good morning, hard-working students,” he announced. Nervous giggles and smiles cracked from the students as he unboxed his goods.
Hammet asked biology major Davah Mullis, “Would you be so kind as to be the first person to try one of the muffins?”
She timidly reached into the box to takes one.
“Here take two or three more. You’ve got friends right?”
She laughed and said, “Yes.” Hammet handed her some plastic bags and she said to him, “You’ve got all the goodies today.”
Hammet told me the night before, at Panera, one of the tricks he uses to break the ice is to ask them if they’d get some for their friends. He thought of this when looking back to when he would take his kids to a nursing home. His kids were young at the time and they hated it, so to make it more fun for them, he started giving them chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil to give to the elderly.
“We as people have an innate need to know ‘What we’re doing,’” he told me. Hammet’s kids found purpose at the nursing home there through chocolate coins. He explained that food is a tangible expression of relationship.
In his wife’s words, April Hammet said, “Hospitality and food for (Jared Hammet) don’t replace love and care but are a good way of showing it.”
MORE THAN JUST A TUB OF TREATS
For writing and communication major Kirsten Davis, Hammet’s treats are more than just a little break away from studying. For her, it’s sometimes the only breakfast she gets all week.
“The first week of January, he had a big tub of bread from Panera and I didn’t know him at the time and he came up and said ‘Get you some food.’ That morning I was really hungry and there were not many students. He said he wanted to get rid of it so I was like, ‘If you don’t mind, can I take it with me?’”
She explained that her family doesn’t get many groceries and that she’d take whatever he could give her. Hammet decided to give her one of the totes to take home to her household of eight people.
“They ate it up, all of it… (Hammet) would’ve brought more if he could.”
Panera does their donations every day. According to Hammet, Panera hasn’t had people to come to pick up their bread every night. There are people within Tifton like Davis’s family who could use donations like these.
“It could be a full-time job,” Hammet said, “I can’t do that. No one person can. It’s a good thing there’s twelve baskets and the leftovers to tote you know?”
“We need seven disciples,” he told me, one for every day of the week.
“My hope is that anyone who reads this will say, ‘We can do that.’”