Thinking About Hunger, Acting Against Hunger

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From the Summer 2012 Caller

By Christa Kaainoa

About 50 of us are on the yellow school bus on a Wednesday morning in April—45 students and 5 teachers—headed to the Oregon Food Bank for our monthly Middle School service day. On the way, students shout out guesses about what we’ll be packing: onions, apples, cereal, potatoes, rice, granola bars . . . we’ve packed them all before and wonder what this day will bring.
 
We arrive at the Food Bank and are ushered in to a large, clean workspace, where Kyle, one of the friendly volunteer coordinators, welcomes us and explains our project for the day. We don hairnets, aprons, and gloves, then assemble in small mixed-grade groups around five workstations and begin our work.
 
On this particular day, I stand shoulder to shoulder with a 6th grade girl, at the edge of a waist-high vat of dry oats. I grab a plastic bag from a stack and peel it open. I hold it open for her, and she pours in two heaping scoops of oats. Peel, open, scoop, pour. Peel, open, scoop, pour. Then I hand the bags to another student for weighing, he passes them on to two others to be twist-tied, they pass them to an 8th grade girl who packs them into boxes, and then another student seals the boxes with packing tape and finally hands them off to a group of three 7th grade girls who stack the boxes, seven layers high, onto palettes. We operate like a machine, filling and passing the bags, packing and stacking boxes, and all the while, students socialize with each other and with their teachers. Conversations shift from weekend plans to class assignments, and sometimes, even, to the value of our work at the Food Bank.
 
I like working next to this particular student on this particular day because she gets tired early on, and I love that because I am her partner, she feels pressure to press on, scoop after scoop.
 
“I’m hungry!” she tells me. “I know, me too!” I answer, “And just think, there are kids in Oregon who feel this way EVERY DAY, and what we’re doing RIGHT NOW will end their hunger for a whole meal! Isn’t that cool?!” The student doesn’t really know how to respond to my enthusiasm, but she smiles, and then she leans down and starts scooping again. We’re both hungry, but we’re in it together, and what we’re doing matters.
 
After two hours of work, it’s time to clean up. We put supplies away, push tables to the side of the room, sweep the floors, and assemble to hear our grand totals for the day. We packed 5,610 pounds of oats. That’s 5,178 meals! Kyle explains that individually, each of us packed approximately 208 meals. We all clap and cheer, and exchange high fives. We say goodbye to Kyle, and file out the door and back to our school bus, proud of our accomplishments, and ready to come back and do it again next month.
 
Christa Kaainoa has been teaching 7th grade English at Catlin Gabel since 2004. Her daughter Amare ’24 just completed kindergarten at CGS.
 
For more information about the Oregon Food Bank, check out this video.