My teenage students weren’t enthusiastic as we battled morning traffic. They were happy to skip class but this food bank volunteering thing had gotten old.
Their attitude: People are hungry. Yeah. Why do we have to fix it?
Our first stint had been such fun. In the cavernous, chilly warehouse mountains of donated food waited to be sorted. For three hours we pawed through an astonishing array of cans, boxes and jars. Cereal got tossed into one bin, beans over there. Kids ran around with armfuls of groceries, skidding up to pallets to dump their loads. The crazy stuff people contributed — rhododendron tea, chili-pomegranate jelly, a half-eaten box of Oreos. It was a treasure hunt.
But ever since then we had been bagging rice; week after week, measuring exactly 16 ounces into each plastic bag, slapping on cooking instructions. The glee of ditching class faded to weary resignation. Even clowning around in our hair nets and latex gloves got old. Boring, uninspiring work.
But on this morning it changed.
“What’s so special about 16 ounces of rice,” my student Evan whined.
I explained: It’s dinner for a family of four. The label says how to cook it to taste good. A hot meal to end the day.
The kids looked stunned. This is dinner?
I nodded, “Yes, if you’re hungry.”
There was a little silence.
Evan piped up again. He’d done seven bags, dinners for a week. A second boy yelled when he hit 30 bags, dinners for a month. For the rest of the morning, they raced to meet a goal that had become urgent to them. If we could fill 365 bags by noon, we’d have fed a family for a year. They flew through the work.
They walked out of the food bank proud to be helping the 20% of our neighbors who don’t have enough to eat.
In the end, my students asked to volunteer again.
Also, to learn to cook rice.
With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.
Marilyn Englander is an educator and writer who founded REAL School Marin.