All the oat bags

Life isn’t always as terrible as the internet leads us to believe.

Blink 182

It’s takes the fur from 15 confetti monsters to fill just one of those cannons.

Thursday night for example, Fiona and had an amazing evening at the Blink 182 show. We didn’t go out on Friday, but scrounging for dinner I had a small amount of leftover spaghetti and a salsa verde microwave burrito. Italian and Mexican on the same night? Only in America! Today, Fiona and I are going to drink some beer in the fall sunshine and watch live music at the Summit Backyard Bash with Bob Mould as the headliner.

Other than our cat’s 5:30 AM air raid siren meows, life is pretty good.

911 What's your emergency? I'd like to file a noise complaint against my cat.

911 What’s your emergency?
I’d like to file a noise complaint against my cat.

Before heading out into the sunshine, we had something much more important to do. This morning we attended Hiram College Alumni Volunteer Day in the Twin Cities. Hiram AVD is an important annual appointment for me. For all of us, it’s easy to fall into a comfortable routine where you don’t even *think* about people in the world who aren’t experiencing life in the same way you are. Alumni Volunteer Day breaks that cycle. If you don’t think that’s important, just take five minutes and listen to all the screaming TV heads bemoaning how America has gone to crap. By all measures, that’s not the case, but when you can’t adjust to competing world views, you get mired in a pit of anxiety, fear and despair that you can’t escape.

Hiram College AVD takes me out of my comfortable Saint Paul cocoon and, while I just go to the suburbs to volunteer at a food bank, it provides me the great opportunity to ruminate on how fortunate I am and reinforces how important it is to help others.

With that in mind, I toddled off to Second Harvest Heartland in my Hiram College shirt to spend a few hours thinking about someone other than myself.

Someday son, all of this could be yours (to pack for hungry families).

Someday son, all of this could be yours (to pack for hungry families).

Because this is our fourth rodeo, with experience stacking tortillas, bagging apples and onions, and counting carrots, we skipped the introduction and got right to the good stuff. Pounding oats. By pounding, I don’t mean beating them to a pulp, but instead bagging and sealing them in one pound bags. For two hours, we scooped, poured, squished, weighed, sealed and packed oats until we, and some other volunteers, packed 928 pounds of them. That’s the equivalent of 773 meals and our mighty Hiram four accounted for 172 of those meals.

As usual, I have a list of things I learned during Hiram Alumni Volunteer Day while at Second Harvest Heartland. For all citations, please reference Second Harvest Heartland Hunger Facts:

1. Tonight, 600,000 Minnesotans will not know where their next meal is coming from. It’s not a question of where to obtain food, but rather how they can purchase it.

2. 80’s music is the best to listen to while doing repetitive labor. Madonna advising us to “get into the groove” right at the start set the tone for a productive morning. This also reminds me of one of my favorite tweets that few other people enjoyed:

There were so many oats, it was like an episode of Chopped but for horses.

There were so many oats, it was like an episode of Chopped but for horses.

3. Opinion Alert: Anyone who suggests we should cut “entitlement” funding to programs like SNAP should be required to volunteer at a place like Second Harvest Heartland. Families aren’t going to stop being hungry just because some politicians reduce program funding because to them it’s just a line item on a budget.

4. My first “adult” job was in 1988 working at a marina. My first day on the job, I counted worms into Styrofoam cups for four hours—it might have been icky but at least I didn’t have to wear a beardnet.

5. While it’s a good feeling to help, I’m just one person. It takes 1,500 organizations and over 40,000 people annually for Second Harvest Heartland to serve 77 million meals to 532,000 people. That’s a lot of people and money. Good people who all deserve our thanks.

I'd make a handsome beekeeper.

I’d make a handsome beekeeper.

6. Instead of donuts, I wish I could carry around a baggie that contained a donut bakery smell and just pull it out for a furtive whiff when someone is wearing too much perfume. I’d also like a second baggie that smells like freshly ground Caribou Coffee beans, and a third baggie with a burrito smell. Basically, I want to be your drug dealer but with wonderful scents.

7. In 2010, the University of Minnesota Food Industry Center estimated that hunger costs the state at least $1.6 BILLION annually in healthcare, hospitalization, medication, education, and other things like lost productivity at work or school. Imagine spending just a fraction of that upfront to reduce hunger and the benefits we could reap as a state.

8. My wife and I make a good team when it comes to manual labor. Like a really good team. We are still probably really bad at canoeing.

9. I think I now have the skills to start my own overpriced, yuppie focused, organic trail mix.I plan to call it Pumpkin Spice Kale ‘n’ Nuts.

Not pictured: Spouse already in the car, listening to the Gopher game.

Not pictured: Spouse already in the car, listening to the Gopher game.

10. It’s great to say, “See you next year!” to my fellow Hiram alumni at the end of our shift when I know they will be back next year–even if they missed the beginning of the Gopher game (again).

11. Our group included a High School freshman who was in the process of logging 100 hours of volunteer work at Second Harvest so he could get a certificate to help get him into a good college. Sucker.

12. Why don’t I do this more often? Why don’t we all do this more often? That’s an important question. Because it’s really easy to get focused on the next concert, the next food truck, the next Minnesota State Fair (had to mention it, didn’t I?) and forget that there’s a whole world of people who are not having the same experience as you—and that life experience is not so great.

Humans are both communal and insular at the same time. This means we seek out others like us and project that framework on the world because it’s comfortable. It’s agreeable to us, but also creates dangerous stereotypes (why don’t these hungry people just get a better job? I pulled myself up by my bootstraps with no help, why can’t they?). It’s so much easier to know we know something about other people (like the food insecure) and it is to actually learn something about them.

For one day a year, Hiram College gets us back out there as a reminder that we can do good for others—especially for those who aren’t having those not so terrible lives. After four years of education there, I can’t think of a better lesson learned.

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