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The Hunger Boxers

Gleaners!

Photo by a cheerful Gleaners representative. They strongly encouraged social media sharing. Consider it done!

No, that’s not a photo of my interim reign as CEO of the Box Factory. But I can dream.

Last week my employer tried something new: they gave several hundred of us the opportunity to spend half a workday (on the clock!) participating in scheduled acts of service at various charities throughout Indianapolis — charitable synergy courtesy of United Way.

I signed up and went forth to serve last Thursday morning at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, one of the most prominent resources in local hunger relief efforts. Oddly, my shift happened a full week before our local media declared today as Hunger Action Day. My coworkers and I may have missed that holiday, but I should hope our efforts were useful regardless of timing.

The Box King!

Soapboxes? Sandboxes? Squawkboxes? Jack-in-the-boxes? Look, I don’t know what kind of factory you’re thinking of, but here we just make boxes.

Their name has popped up quite a few times in my life. Before they became nationally syndicated, local radio DJs Bob and Tom used to release a new album every Thanksgiving compiling their radio comedy segments and stand-up comedian interviews, the proceeds from which went to Gleaners. More recently, the fundraising efforts of Gen Con 2014 brought in over $40,000 in donation to Gleaners.

Despite their long-standing presence and far-reaching efforts, Gleaners has yet to run out of work. Like any major city, Indianapolis has its share of poverty-stricken residents, food deserts, regrettable layoffs, and hard times during recessions. Officially, the Food Bank doesn’t hand out food directly to the needy; it’s the distributor that provides foods to food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, domestic abuse hideaways, and the like. The Food Bank, in turn, receives its supplies via donations from the big-box stores (Kroger, Meijer, Marsh, Walmart), from government suppliers, and from food drives held by other corporations and organizations. It’s a complex delivery system with many important components, and help is always welcome.

Volunteers!

My view from the front of the line. It may not be glamorous. It didn’t need to be.

That’s where we volunteers came in. Gleaners has setups tailor-made for volunteer groups with little or no experience in grocery distribution or the food pantry industry. We arrived, we went through brief orientation, they brought us into their warehouse, they gave each of us several seconds of training, and they put us right to work on an assembly line boxing up family-sized grocery orders for delivery to an agency serving the elderly needy. A few full-time warehouse employees supervised us to encourage us, provide guidance as needed, ensure we didn’t injure ourselves, and tackle us if we tried to hot-wire a forklift.

A couple of our guys were in charge of taking empty boxes off the stacks and getting the ball rolling. Several others were assigned to place specific non-perishable products in each box. One or two more were in charge of removing empty product cartons from the assembly area and breaking them down for recycling. Further down the line were other people performing whatever duties were needed to finalize each food-box as they reached their allotment. I don’t know the specifics because I couldn’t see that side of the warehouse.

Tape Gunner Joe!

Have Tape Gun, Will Tape. Not pictured: the half-hour I fought with it until we came to an understanding, by which I mean I figured out how to tape things without wasting an extra foot of tape per box, and without using scissors to snip it off. Scissors are cheating and will disqualify you from boxmaker union membership.

Before the head of the line was the domain of the boxmakers. Two of us were privileged with the responsibility of taking flattened boxes off their Mishawaka box-factory delivery pallets, popping them open into proper three-dimensional box shapes, taping the bottoms shut, and stacking them near the head of the assembly line.

I’m sure it sounds simple. If you’ve ever used a box, you have the general concept. Now try assembling hundreds of boxes while others are waiting on you. Gleaners had several stacks of empty boxes ready from a previous shift, but that was merely a head start. We needed to make sure the food packers didn’t run out of boxes. If they had been older and slower, our job might have been a breeze, but our output would’ve been pitiful and needs wouldn’t have been met. Once everyone got the hang of their respective roles and got into a steady rhythm, production speed picked up and my cohort and I had ourselves a serious workout to keep up.

A few hours later, our supervisors signaled quitting time. By then I was drenched in sweat, my tape-gun hand was killing me, and I cursed myself for wearing cubicle shoes instead of comfy standing shoes. As a former longtime restaurant worker, I should’ve known better. I’ve been out of the game too long.

The pain was temporary and worth it. Our net results: 880 boxes’ worth of groceries completed for the elderly.

It was a terrific experience. Hopefully we’ll have more events like this in the future where we can help make a difference in the community. I was happy to serve, and glad they asked us and let us. And I’m not saying that just because they gave us free T-shirts.

Boxes boxes boxes!

Boxes: an important part of the food service industries, whether it’s a charity or a McDonald’s. BOXES! Buy them wherever you shop, work, or bank. Thank you.

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