Grace Lutheran Church of Teaneck hosted a Packathon for Haiti, to which Zion sent a small contingent of volunteers.  We could not in good conscience advocate anyone attending a church other than Zion, but if you happen to live in or near Teaneck, Grace would be an excellent bet.  They did a bang-up job on a role that involved D-Day-like logistics.

Phil and Donna (who were the ones who made our congregation aware of this event) helped with the sign-ups, logistics and (ultimately) the packing throughout the course of the day.  The rest of us worked a two-hour shift, from 3-5:00.
After checking us in, the organizers seated dozens of us in a large room with an InFocus projector aimed at a white wall.  After a brief political message, a succession of presenters described the program, then shared photos of the children on whose behalf we would be packing the food, the rustic but solid school in which the learn, the teachers who teach them and the surrounding countryside.

The third presenter gave us practical instructions for the food package assembly.  Each small, sealable plastic bag is to contain between 380 and 400 mg of rice, pinto beans, dehydrated vegetables and vitamin powder.  The assembly process is:

  1. A bagger takes a bag, rubs its sides together to loosen it and loads it onto a fixed metal funnel;
  2. Four scoopers measure and scoop their respective ingredients into the bag;
  3. The bagger hands the filled bag to a weigher, who uses a postal scale to ensure correct weight.  He or she adds or subtracts rice to trim the bag weight into the 380-400 gram window;
  4. The weigher hands the correct-weighted bag to the squisher, who presses the bag flat to get all excess air out of the bag so it will back down compactly, and puts the open bag mouth into a paper-cutter-looking sealer device;
  5. The sealer presses the sealer down on the bag top for two seconds, melting the opening just enough to seal it shut;
  6. The boxer takes the sealed bags (which by now look like transparent cornhole bags with nutrition labels) and arranges them on numbered spaces on a table.  When all spaces are filled, the bags are packed in a box and sealed, then;
  7. The whole assembly line gives out a cheer of triumph both to taunt the other assembly teams for their slowness and to summon box haulers to take the box to a forklift pallette.

The work went quickly and was more fun than we anticipated.  One entire assembly line was staffed out by a girl scout troop.  Zion’s team of volunteers worked as scoopers and sealers.  The only station with an age requirement was the squeezer, but Cartney as a packer was moving faster and more crazily than Lucile Ball in the famous candy conveyor belt scene.  When the bags came through on-weight, the squeezer was the process bottleneck.  When they were off-weight, the squeezer got a break.

The two-hour shift (actually 1.5 hours after the presentation) flew by and our shift managed to pack 32K meals, more than the morning shift but not quite as many as the shift immediately before us.  Donna said afterwards that she was drafted into packing for the understaffed last shift, and was ready to sleep when she was through.