Friday, March 15, 2013

Summit Unit Moved Twenty-Five Tons of Meat Yesterday

I'm gonna let that just hang in the air for a second. Savor it. Bask in the glory.

Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh.*sips martini, relaxes on tropical beach*

Okay, storytime now. The entire Summit unit, minus a few people who couldn't duck their work for the day or were otherwise engaged, went to the New York master food pantry today for an Individual Service Project. I say "the", not "a", because however many of them there are, this one was the definite article. It was an immense warehouse where what appeared to be hundreds of tons of food are stored. The organization subcontracts their food out to lesser food pantries, which turn around and give it to the people, free of charge. As the posters on their walls and the promotional video they showed us proudly blared, the entire program serves over 400,000 meals a day through its various outlets (and teaches kids about healthy eating, AND does peoples' taxes for free). One-fifth of the city supposedly uses their services. So we all packed up and went down to the factory floor, where we were greeted with more ham than I have ever seen in the entire rest of my life combined, and were told to repack it into boxes that would be trucked to various pantries. (Sundry amounts of chicken, beef, pastrami, etc. also appeared occasionally and got their own separate pallets.)

The mechanics of it were fascinating. It was 45 pounds of ham to a box, but because every ham was different, we were allowed to have it be anywhere between 43.5 and 45.0 pounds. A natural assembly line developed, with variations over time depending on what we were short of. Some people unflattened (dimensioned?) and taped the bottoms of boxes, while others fetched the hams from gigantic ham crates in the center of the room. Those same people helped pack the boxes atop a scale, made sure it was within the boundaries (not even .01 pounds over, the guy said) and slid it down one of those rolling belt things with a kajillion little wheels that you slide things down. That went down to someone who taped the top and wrote HAM on the side, who stacked it on a table where yet more people hauled it off to pallets, which were finally dragged away by forklifts (sadly, that bit was not us).

 It was an immense amount of fun. I did a lot of different things--fetching ham, carrying boxes, etc.--but my favorite was being the weight guy, that is, loading the boxes and making sure they were within the weight limits. I got to yell like an auctioneer A LOT: "Twenty-five pounds! Thirty pounds! Thirty-four pounds! Forty pounds! Forty-two-point-three-four pounds! We are... OVER! Forty-six pounds! Take that one out, put that one in! [sometimes repeated eight or ten times until it works] And it is... IN! Forty-four-point-four-five pounds!" Close the top, slide it down the conveyor, get the next box on. It was for all the world like a puzzle game; given this number of pieces and these limits, get to the correct number as fast as possible. We developed an appreciation for all the different hams; there were "big bastard" giant half-hams, round "pillbox" bright red hams, legions of ordinary "apple hams", pesto hams, peppered hams, black hams and so forth. The most valuable commodity by far was the tiny red hams, only one and a half pounds or so. If you were stuck at 42.5 (otherwise known as ham hell, since every other type of ham was three pounds or more), all you needed was one of those little beauties to close you out. My table stole an entire box of tiny hams to use one by one on difficult boxes and frequently poached smaller hams from the neighboring (Team Leader) table. Like I said, it was a ton of fun.

The day was also stupendously productive. My group (John Joyce, John, Jay, Adam, Sean, Rafael, Zack, Michael and I) estimated at the end of the day, when we were cleaning up scraps of cardboard and cut zip-ties, that we had moved perhaps twenty thousand pounds of mostly ham. At forty-five pounds to the box, twenty-four boxes to the pallet, that would be 1,080 pounds per pallet (less maybe a pound per box on average). We estimated that we'd moved perhaps twenty pallets, but that wasn't even close. We'd moved over fifty thousand pounds. 50,432 if you want to be precise. The food bank representative, Germain (and he was, on the whole), told us that at 1.2 pounds per meal on average, we had just boxed 42,027 meals--over a tenth of New York's per-day requirements. As TL Dan calculated, if they didn't mind ham, that much food could feed a family for thirty-eight and a half years.

So that was Summit Unit's Thursday ISP. Would to heaven we could do that sort of thing more often. It was fun, it was helpful, it was direct service, and more than anything else, it was tangible. There's nothing quite so visceral as holding hundreds of pounds of ham, and you can take that quote straight to the quote book.

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