Image: Abby Mohaupt
Mark Featherly  /  AP
Illinois Wesleyan University student Abby Mohaupt, left, demonstrates the fine and personal art of constructing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to friends on Dec. 13.
updated 12/16/2004 7:02:23 PM ET 2004-12-17T00:02:23

Even amid a flurry of final exams and term papers, the semester's last stress-filled days are smooth for some Illinois Wesleyan University students — and crunchy for others.

As in peanut butter, spread into more than 20,000 free sandwiches gobbled up over the last eight years in a finals-week tradition that has stuck like a mouthful of Jif at the 2,000-student college.

Administrator Darcy Greder started spreading the custom, along with grape jelly and strawberry preserves, back when late-night eateries were hard to find near the central Illinois campus.

"It was just one of those kooky ideas to provide a little support and comfort to students during finals week. I thought it was going to be a boon or a bust. I didn't know which," said Greder, associate dean of students.

Boxes of fruit and vats of coffee, tea and hot chocolate also are emptied along a makeshift serving line in a student center basement, which stays open for study-weary students from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. a couple of nights at the end of each semester. The giveaway costs the university about $600 to $700 per semester.

Students lined up in jeans, sweats and even pajamas early Tuesday for this fall's "PB&J Extravaganza," which averages about 600 sandwiches a night. The demand once topped 1,000 sandwiches, sending Greder on a wee-hours run for more bread and industrial-sized jars of spread.

"Free food and free hot chocolate. It'll keep me up a little bit longer," said 18-year-old freshman Josh Rundle, on a study break for finals in Spanish and calculus.

Sophomore Alison Mayer said the thought of her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich since last year's giveaway made it easier to face a long night with the books.

"It gives you an incentive if you want to stay up longer. I could be back in my room right now passing out," said Mayer, 19.

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