Chain of Thought

Fulfillment Basics: Today Show Style

When the Material Handling Industry of America developed its technical career program for high school students in 2009, order fulfillment was an important part of the curriculum. But two years later, the author of the textbook being used in the program is talking about a different kind of fulfillment as a bittersweet sign of the times. It's the fulfillment students in the program at the Don Frazier Center in Rock Hill, SC, are getting from making sure some of their less fortunate fellow students are fed.

It may surprise you that hunger is a problem afflicting some suburban public school students as much as it is the inner city's homeless. According to NBC News, 12 million children go without adequate food every weekend when not attending school. That's why the Rock Hill school system started a program called “Back the Pack.” It's designed to make sure kids who don't eat on a regular basis at home get enough nutrition to make it through their school day. It even helps some get through their weekend.

The kids in the warehousing and distribution curriculum that Rock Hill runs are using the material handling practices and equipment applied in MHIA's Technical Career program to get nutritious food into kids' backpacks. Of course I would have thought that just having a program dedicated to teaching high school kids about logistics as a career would have been enough to draw national media attention to the Frazier Center, but it was the hunger factor that got NBC's attention.

Sue Kutz, who runs the Back the Pack program, was interviewed about it on the Today Show last week. The segment quoted some troubling statistics—in addition to that national stat I cited above . One in 17 students in the Rock Hill school district goes through their weekends hungry. To help carry them through those weekends, every Friday, students at the Don Frazier Center help pick, pack and distribute 500 bags of various food items donated to the program.

I wanted to learn more about this program, but not from Kutz. I wanted to talk to Allan Howie, author of the textbook used at the Center, “Fundamentals of Warehousing and Distribution.” He's also director of continuing education and professional development at MHIA. Allan told me it's not just the students at the Center who are pitching in. Many in the local community donate $10.00 per month, which is enough to feed one child. Some food is bought from vendors and some is donated outright. But just as material handling and logistics are the enablers of the supply chain, it's the students in this program that get these supplies in the right backpacks at the right time.

“Certain students in each of the high school classes serve as ‘quality control,'” Howie told me. “These students not only make sure all the items are in the bags, but they also know and monitor the number of bags prepared for students that are lactose intolerant or allergic to peanut products. These green bins are taken to the school nurse or guidance office and screened a second time to avoid having a child become ill.”

This is great training not only in order fulfillment but in good citizenship. Still, one thing bothered me while watching the Today segment. If there are so many kids missing meals throughout the course of an entire weekend, where are the parents?

“Your guess is as good as mine where the parents are,” Howie answered. “Some may just not care. Others spend their money on things other than feeding the children. Others may simply not have the money to buy food as well as pay rent, utilities, etc. My neighbor is a family court judge and he has seen every reason imaginable for child neglect. It runs the full gamut.”

I couldn't help but notice while watching the Today segment how well fed the mother of a couple of these hungry, skinny kids looked. She told the interviewer that rent and electricity bills had to come first. Now it's not for me to judge whether some people are gaming this system, but if there are so many kids going hungry every weekend in Rock Hill and other school systems throughout this country, it's time for a new curriculum—Parenthood 101.

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