Above the din, Erica Sims called out: “What number are we on?”
It took Briley Douglas a couple of seconds to calculate the rows of stacked boxes.
“We’re at 200,” he responded.
“Well, we’re about done here for today,” said Major Sue Haslett.
Soon after, the room grew quiet, as the workers munched granola bars and washed them down with Gatorade.
This is the third year that Pettis County R-V seventh-graders through seniors have participated in the “Week of Service.” Sims, counselor at the high school, had students helping with the Salvation Army’s “Breakfast with Santa” and the Saline County Holiday Project earlier in the week. Friday morning, the seventh-graders came to Sedalia to help out the Salvation Army.
“They were supposed to ring bells, but the food boxes were the more immediate need,” said Sue Foster, Salvation Army volunteer coordinator.
The students created an assembly line, with several of them grabbing empty boxes and filling them with canned goods, boxes of stuffing, bags of pretzels, Gatorade, coffee and other items. The boxes then were handed off to other students, who stacked them neatly on the south side of the room, a storage area in the Woods Supermarket strip mall provided for Salvation Army by Coldwell Banker Monsees Realty.
Douglas, who served as one of the box stackers, said the goal was to fill “as much as we can.” The students ended up filling 209 boxes in less than an hour.
“After each activity, the students have said it feels good,” Sims said. “They are doing a great job, and I’m very proud of them. ... They said this made them sweat more than they do in P.E.”
Through the week, Sims had about 170 students providing community outreach through the service learning project. She said the students enjoy the work, and she has never had any behavior issues on any of the trips.
“It is a blessing to get to expose them to this,” she said. “I hope Northwest keeps it going every year.”
The seventh-graders shared her sentiments.
Zane Harding said he was thinking of the joy on the recipients’ faces as he assembled the boxes. He admitted it was “pretty hard work,” but added that it was fun “helping people get some things that they can’t get.”
Ashlynn Liebl enjoyed the packing, ensuring that every box had all of the elements. She found the experience fulfilling because the families that applied “will know they will have something.”
Sims noted that some of the boxes didn’t receive pasta or potatoes because the supplies ran out. She also explained to the students that when their school or church does a food drive, “this is what it goes for.”
Student Marissa Cornine rang bells for Salvation Army with her church in the past, but she found Friday’s work much more interesting. Still, she is hopeful that in the future, the students will be able to not only fill the boxes but also deliver them.
“It would feel good to see the smiles on their faces,” she said.
And building off Sims’ comments about the shortage of some items, Cornine said, “We need to get our school to donate more food. We could do a food drive with a contest ... Maybe the winner would get a party — something to grab (students’) attention.”
Sims said as a counselor, she sees service learning as a top priority that sometimes requires creativity to work into all the mandated elements of education. But those able to incorporate it will see “a positive reflection in the classroom.”
Foster called the students’ work extremely valuable, especially when using the generally accepted calculation that an hour of volunteer work is worth about $21.
“We did our summer food program in Hughesville and Houstonia this year,” Foster said. “It’s nice that people from those areas can come and help us when we are at our busiest.”
As the students filed out and headed to the school bus, Sims said she is considering adding another “Week of Service” during the spring semester. Foster assured Sims there would be plenty to do.
“When everybody works together, we get so much more done,” Foster said.
HOW TO HELP
• The Salvation Army needs food donations to help more than 600 families at Christmas. Of greatest need are instant potatoes, stuffing mix and canned vegetables and fruit. Donations can be dropped off at the Salvation Army, 1200 E. Broadway Blvd.
• The Salvation Army will conduct a “Stuff the Truck” toy drive 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Walmart to help fulfill Christmas assistance requests.