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Hands On

by Sally W. Buffington, University City United Church, San Diego,

Sally Buffington is a writer and photographer

Ever since I was a child, rice has fascinated me: all those little, individual pieces! It’s a multiples kind of food, you might even say, an e pluribus unum food.  That is, from many individual pieces, one mouthful; from many mouthfuls, a serving.

All my adult life I’ve cooked rice, usually measuring with an old familiar tin cup. I’ve always liked that dry multiple tapping sound. But on a recent Sunday, all around me people were scooping out that same amount of rice and pouring it into open plastic bags. Swish! Swoosh! Alongside them, others added in packets of vitamins and scoops of mixed soy flour/protein and dried vegetable flakes: the resulting mixture was basically white with splashes of brown and dark orange flakes, and dashes of green and gold. Everyone’s hands were busy and there was much happy noise: talk and laughing and swish after swoosh!

All of us had stations; mine faced a metal scale with a digital read-out.On it was a bright blue plastic basket in which I was to put an assembled bag of these foodstuffs. Each bag must weigh between 389 and 394 grams. If one ran heavy, I’d subtract a few grains of rice and dump them back into a red cereal-sized bowl – or add more as needed. I kept wanting to just spoon in more and say to someone in spirit, “Oh, have it all! I hope you enjoy this and feel ready for the day now!” But I knew that precision is important for packing purposes, so resisted my impulse to over-fill.

I was one of a group of people creating thousands of servings for people somewhere in the world who are hungry. In fact, aided by an efficient process and much enthusiasm, we put together and packed up for shipment 15,000 meals.
All this took place at University City United Church (UCUC) in San Diego, this past March. Eighty of us gathered after worship, including our youngest, an infant carried in a sling. Everyone was welcome to take a hand, from four-year-olds to a nonagenarian who tackled the  job of slapping a label on each bag.

The event was sponsored and set in motion by Rise Against Hunger (www.Riseagainsthunger.org), a wonderful organization working to end famine in the world. After contact and financial arrangements made by our UCUC Social Concerns committee, Rise Against Hunger’s representative arrived that Sunday morning with a truckload of everything we would need. Joel Boucher was clearly an old hand at directing and cheering on a group.

When we arrived, the social hall was full of tables, equipment, and primary colors. Lemon yellow funnels, white measuring cups, big blue bins of rice, white plastic baskets, red rice bowls, and gray metal bag sealers that looked rather like staplers. And the latest fashion statement: red hair nets for all, as well as plastic gloves. Waiting for the assembly stage were poster-like templates on which to lay out finished bags for counting, then boxing, tape guns, and cartons. Just outside, a fork lift and pallets stood ready to transfer loads to the truck.

The two hours flashed by, aided by Justin Timberlake and others to keep our rhythm going– no problem with our spirits! A large gong signaled every 2000 bag mark, at which everyone cheered and clapped. We all sank into the excitement– it’s fun to work together.

And then it was over. We reached the goal in about two hours. Now for cleanup – time to vacuum up rice and bits from the carpet. As equipment got packed up, a tray of glazed and very sugary-appearing donuts was passed around. People pitched in putting away chairs and tables, while others went on to their next Sunday afternoon event.

All of us came away feeling a glow of thanks, a sense of sharing.  There is “something we can do” besides write a check to help our global family.  As the “cheerful givers” described in Second Corinthians 9:7, we can work together, hands on; we can pack the ingredients you don’t see, all the prayers and love, and offer food–and serve the world.

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