Deals, Dares & Reviews To Help You Savor Your World.
Salut! A Culinary Adventure Club is always looking for ways to give back to our community. As a social group of foodies lucky enough to savor the best our world has to offer, we’d kinda be a bunch of jerks if we didn’t do something nice for our fellow man every once in a while. We recently got a hands-on chance to help the hungry at a kickass volunteer event at the Greater Chicago Food Depository organized by Seth Zurer and Kerensa Peterson (part of the creative force behind Baconfest Chicago.) Here’s what happened that day:
We sat in the Orientation Room, some sixty or so volunteers in all age groups, from all walks of life. I recognized Seth and Kerensa right away, maybe because they wore Baconfest t-shirts and carried a supersized cardboard check for $50,000 made out to the Food Depository — proceeds from Baconfest Chicago 2012. After a few hi-how-are-yous and nice-to-meet-yous, our Volunteer Coordinator, Emily, stood and thanked us for coming. She gave us a brief rundown of statistics:
Emily then gave us our assignments. Our group — which included the Baconfest crowd, the strong contingent from Salut! and a sprinkling of high school kids fulfilling their social service hours — would be re-packaging bulk dry pinto beans into smaller, family sized portions in the “Clean Room.” Other groups were assigned to ”Orange Juice” and to “Ranch Dressing.” We were asked to remove our jewelry and stow our personal stuff in lockers, then our group was escorted through the huge, clean, brightly lit warehouse to the Clean Room. We never saw the other teams again, and I can only shudder at the horrors that awaited the poor stiffs on the “Ranch Dressing” team.
Once inside the Clean Room, we were met by our shift boss, Bob. He again thanked us for helping out, then swiftly divided us into sub-groups to handle specific chores: bagging beans, weighing the bags, labeling the bags, packing the bags into boxes and stacking the boxes on pallets. Ham (being the biggest guy in the room) was assigned to shovel the beans from their one-ton bulk containers into smaller bins that were distributed to the different stations to be processed. I was pressed into service at the labeling table. We all donned plastic aprons, latex gloves and mesh hairnets, and spent a few moments admiring our new “lunch lady” looks.
Now, affixing labels to three-pound bags of beans doesn’t sound very difficult or physically demanding. But Oh. My. God. What a workout that was! The weighing station was only a few steps away, but it was twenty feet long and manned with eight volunteers, each making sure the bags of beans weighed within the acceptable range before sealing and stacking them in their stations. As a labeller, I ran back and forth between the bean weighers and grabbed their finished bags — sometimes six to eight per handful — then rushed them back to the labelling station, where I slapped small white labels on them and pushed them forward to be packed by someone else into boxes.
What? Still not impressed? Let’s do the math: 7800 pounds of beans, divided into 3-pound portions equals 2600 bags of beans that my partner and I grabbed, schlepped and labeled over the course of the three hours we worked. Each handful weighed between 18 and 24 pounds, times two handfuls per trip, equals quite a lot of exercise for this fat, lazy old lady. It also meant that 2600 families would be fed from our efforts, and that made me very, very happy.
No one is more motivated to get the job done than a group of volunteers. We quickly fell into an efficient, high-energy pace that would have shamed any employee on the clock. One ton of beans went down, then another, then a third. With half an hour left in our shift, Bossman Bob dragged in a fourth and final ton, and we got through that one too, although there were quite a few groans from the tiring volunteers.
I didn’t see much of Ham throughout the afternoon — I was far too busy moving beans. But I occasionally heard him laugh loud and long, so I knew he was enjoying himself. When we were done, Bossman Bob thanked us again and told us that we had beat the morning session’s production by at least a ton! That’s one big hill of beans, and a nice dent in the hunger in our community. Panting, but proud of our efforts, we all grinned at each other. Seth asked if Salut! would like to do this again someday, maybe four times a year? Hell, yeah! We shook hands on it.
Goodbyes all around and promises to go out for beers next time. Ham and I staggered stiffly back to our Zipcar and drove down the street to the nearest supermarket, where we dropped a couple of hundred bucks on groceries for our own pantry at home.
The irony was not lost on me.