A while ago, I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Alameda County Food Bank with my then 10-year old daughter. When we walked into the massive warehouse and were confronted by bags and bags… and bags of potatoes. My daughter stopped short and said “now THAT is a lot of French Fries!”
Our task was to open the large bags of potatoes and move them spud by spud into smaller bags. We tied off the bags and put them into another large bin that slowly grew into a potato mountain….for three hours. It was mind numbing work. The initial motivation of corralling bags of food for families to enjoy gave away to the doldrums of moving potatoes with one eye on the clock and the other wearily sizing up the glacier of potatoes still to be re-bagged. Each of us were silently swearing to remove tubers from our own tables for a while, never wanting to see one again.
It was an opportunity to spend time with my daughter and talk about life, but the hour and a half drive on the way there and the eyes of the potatoes staring us down started to take their toll. Even my chatty little girl was falling into a slump.
We were there and we had a job to do so I decided to get motivated. I started seeing how many bags I could do in 5 minutes, challenging myself to bag as many as I could as quickly as possible. My own mountain of finished bags of potatoes was growing but I looked around the room and saw that others were still moving at a pace that would make a competition between the DMV and Passport office look lightning fast. I could only do so much working by myself.
So I challenged my daughter to a duel: “I can do 7 bags in the time it takes you to do 5.”
Never one to miss an opportunity to beat her mom and with the odds in her favor, she took up the challenge. Giggling and laughing, both of our potato mountains started to grow as the stakes grew higher (“I’ll clear the table for a week if you can beat me this time!”).
And then – magic happened. “Hey Mom,” my born leader of a daughter said, “why don’t we challenge that other table?” And so we did. We challenged some high school boys serving out their community service sentence. Instead of moving one potato an hour into the bag, they started to put it into gear. Not at first, mind you, it took a mom and 5th grade girl to beat them a few times before they started turning up the music of their own tater conga line.
Once we came to parity on our ability to bag potatoes, they joined with us and together we challenged a larger group and then joined forces with them for an even larger competition until the entire warehouse of people was on one team or another – all moving as quickly as possible to pack up food for families in need. Squeals of delight came from the winning team and vows of a rematch from those that struggled in the art of spud wrangling.
In the end, we were told that our volunteer shift managed more poundage than any other group. I suspect they may say this to every shift, but we all cheered as if we had won the Spud Olympics. Motivating myself made me move faster, but the true magic happened when we became leaders and motivated others to do the same.
And…it was a lot more fun.
-Christy Duncan Anderson (President and ED of Albertsons Companies Foundation)
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