On February 25, students from IE427 “Introduction to Lean Systems,” taught by Dr. Rupy Sawhney, visited the facilities of Second Harvest Food Bank in Maryville, which is the East Tennessee region’s largest hunger-relief charity operating programs in eighteen counties. The food bank secures and distributes over eighteen million pounds of food and grocery products annually through a network of over five hundred partnering non-profit organizations such as food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, and schools.
The students from the University of Tennessee ISE Department were involved in volunteering activities, which for Second Harvest represent “the difference in the success of the food bank, doing mission critical tasks”. Specifically, they were involved in sorting donated items and packing food boxes. While helping for an altruist operation, students had a chance to implement what they have learned in the class for manual operations. Their first task involved labeling and repackaging of black beans, where five groups of six students had to define the “best method” and finish as quickly as possible with the least toll for the manual labor. After a couple of hours of working on this task and finishing the skids, each of which carry ninety boxes of ten one-pound cans each, the group moved to the activities involved in packaging honey oats cereal into small bags of fourteen ounces. The group rearranged itself in two groups and they were timing the output ratio during the operation.
The learning purpose was to expose the students to a portion of manual labor, while at the same time, contributing to their community. This was important from the context of sensitization since the majority of students are seniors. They will be joining the workforce and design processes, and it is important that they put themselves in the position of the people that will be executing repetitive tasks over long periods of time. Also, this being an organization that runs as a non-profit, and working with perishable items, the systems they run inside must be “Lean” enough so all the food is used, minimizing waste, and reaching the needy with the least cost possible.
Greg LaRose, Volunteer and Food Drive Coordinator, hosted the group during the activity and he thanked the students for their work, mentioning that their contribution was making 12,320 pounds of food available for the needy. This is equivalent to 10,266 meals, which can feed three meals for a family of four for about twenty-eight months. “The students were excited to volunteer in their community and possibly help Second Harvest improve their food sorting and labeling process. The group carefully took in details of their trip, so that they can later help optimize Second Harvest’s mission to bring more food to those in need around East Tennessee,“ said Parker McCullough, a senior in the class. “This was a great opportunity to help others in the community, while at the same time learning the worthwhile skill of improving a system through experimenting with different configurations and production styles. The hands on approach made a significant difference in how I now visualize any distribution system“.
The other students noted that actually being part of a process helped them see how they could use lean principles to make better systems in the future, both for the workers involved and the final customers. Second Harvest welcomes any volunteers Monday through Saturday for both morning and afternoon shifts. If you are interested in contributing more, please go to https://secondharvestetn.org/ .