Cooper: Mixing helping with learning

Cooper: Mixing helping with learning

October 5th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Boyd-Buchanan eighth-graders work on folding boxes for Feed My Starving Children at Boyd-Buchanan School.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

As we took our assembly-line positions at the table last week, I thought of the 1952 "I Love Lucy" episode titled "Job Switching," in which Lucy and Ethel take a job in a candy factory after Ricky and Fred say housework is much easier than earning money outside the home.

It would have been no use to tell the Boyd-Buchanan fourth- and fifth-graders working beside me in Jeff Gymnasium what I was thinking because they would have never heard of "I Love Lucy" or Lucille Ball.


In the episode, ranked No. 2 in TV Guide's list of "100 Most Memorable Moments in TV History" in 1996, the girls are given the job of wrapping chocolate candies as they come down an assembly line. Initially, they are able to keep up but soon fall way behind. By the time the supervisor approaches, they are stuffing their mouths full of the candies, putting them down their blouses and hiding them under their hats.

When the supervisor sees no chocolates out of place, she compliments them and orders the machine be sped up.

Uh oh.

Instead of candy last week, it was packets of rice being prepared for the Feed My Starving Children organization. These packets, I was told later, would likely wind up in Haiti.

The goal was to pack 1.5 million meals, and the hundreds of volunteers in Chattanooga reached the mark by packing 1,501,632 meals over four days.

Boyd-Buchanan School President Jill Hartness had volunteered her school to host the Minnesota organization's second big local MobilePack because she thought it would be a good way for her students to understand the service component within the school's discipline.

So, in addition to the dozens of us adults, there were several hundred school children in grades third through fifth.

All wearing hairnets.

Adults, where possible, were asked to be sealers. Their job was to press the air out of the completed bags of rice, protein, vegetables and vitamins, then hold them under stapler-like machines that would heat-seal them.

Once, one of the adults at the table - probably a wise teacher who knew her students - suggested specific places for the students, we were off. One student would place a plastic bag under a hopper, then consecutive students and/or adults would dump in proper amounts of ingredients.

The completed bags - six meals per bag - were weighed, ingredients taken out or put in to achieve proper weight, then passed on to the sealer.

Sealing, we were told in our instructions, was a two-person job. The adult - that would be me - held the bag under the sealer, and a person of any age would lower the sealer onto the bag.

Fourth-grader Charlie Caballero was my first partner. Ol' Charlie got a kick out of his job, told me how excited he was to be helping other people and opined that it might be the hardest job in the line.

"Might be," I said as I pulled my fingers back from the edge of the bag ahead of his latest smash.

Once sealed, the bag was passed on to be boxed.

With the teacher's initial appointees in specific positions, bag after bag after bag came down the pike. Fortunately, they would sit in a box lid until we sealed them up. I didn't have to hide one bag in my pocket. When the teacher let the students change positions to experience each job - just like a teacher to be fair - the process thankfully slowed down a bit.

I don't know which table packed the most boxes of meals, but I'd put our group - even dancing as they did to the likes of Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen as they worked - up against anybody.

Several of the students were incredulous there was such starving in the world in the first place.

"Some kids don't have food," said Addie Stone. "We have a cabinet we can go to anytime we want. They don't have any."

"I can't believe people are so hungry when we get three meals a day," Lauren Callaway said.

"I know we're doing something for a family," Will Workman said. "We have food. They have to go find food."

My fellow packer Sidney Miller may have said it best for the lot of us.

"It was fun," she said, "because we could help people while having fun doing it."

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at