2021 Start = Teacher; 2021 End = Working in a Food Factory

It’s the last hours of 2021 and time to reflect on my year. I’ve blogged at years end a few times – End of 2020; 2014 Review in Editorial Cartoons; A Catholic Look Back at 2014

And I recorded this episode of my Presence Podcast in which I look back on my 2018 year of podcasting every single day!

How was your 2021? Did you feel like you were on a roller coaster with many ups and downs plus twists and turns?

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My work life certainly was twisty this year as I started in one place and am finishing it quite differently.

This day last year I was relaxing on Christmas Break. Yet, storm clouds were on the horizon for me in that job which would culminate five months later in May 2021 when the principal of the school told me suddenly, with no more reason then I wasn’t a “good fit” for this Catholic school.

My contract was not going to be renewed for the next school year and I was thus unemployed.

I wrote about this earthquake in my work life and wrote a part one and part two about what it was like to teach during the Pandemic Year.

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I spent summer 2021 unemployed and looking for my next position. By the grace of God, at the start of September, I begin working in the office of a local, family owned staffing agency. My title is “Training and Systems Manager” and it’s a good role for me to use my experience and skills to support this hospitality focused small business.

This week, as I’ve done a few times over the past few months, I worked not in the office, but in the field at a work site who contracted our services.

I worked the last three days in what is formally known as an industrial kitchen. More specifically it was a food factory. And it was my first time ever working in one.

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NOTE: The food factory photos here are NOT the one in I worked. These are images from the internet which look somewhat like where I worked for 18 hours.

Located in a non-descript building in an office park close to my home, this food factory is run by a local Italian family owned company of specialty markets plus an old-school butcher shop.

I learned more than I ever expected about how bottled salad dressing is made – the spices get measured in the empty bottles first and then the oil and vinegar is shot in later!

I made far too many “take and bake” pizzas to count. Measuring pizza dough, packaging lasagna, and boxing tubs of wedding soup were other memorable tasks.

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I want to reflect on my experience of the people with whom I worked. FYI, I was the only one working the factory who looked remotely like the dude in the hat above.

Everyone but the two bosses (who are in the family who owns the factory) was not white. Nearly everyone spoke Spanish, with the exception of the middle-aged woman with whom I worked most closely.

She told me she was from Eritrea in eastern Africa and had been in Columbus for three years. I regret not learning her name to be able to share it here.

I wasn’t surprised by her national origin as many people from this nation, after their war with Ethiopia in the late 1990’s, settled in the midwestern U.S.

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The work I did with my Eritrean guide was pretty basic assembly line tasks. It was rote and repetitive certainly. Yet there was a sense of creativity to it as well.

It’s not creative like the office job I have designing training materials. Rather, it’s about taking a set of pieces – un-labeled salad dressing bottles, rolls of labels, a blend of spices, oil, vinegar, caps, labels around the caps, cardboard boxes and tape – and assembling these into products that will end up on many tables.

Cleverness is needed for this type of work as problems arise and need to be efficiently solved.

I was trying to tie up a full trash bag, but there wasn’t enough extra plastic at the top to make a knot. My Eritrean guide grabbed one of the latex gloves we were using and fashioned a make-shift twist tie out of it to effectively close the bag.

I would have never thought of that hack. But she knew how to solve that and many other little problems we encountered in our tasks.

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I left these three days grateful for the people that I met. And grateful for the many privileges which I have that allow me to have employment opportunities these food factory workers do not have.

It’s far harder work than I do each day, yet work similar to what millions of Americans do daily in the increasing number of fulfillment warehouse all over the nation.

I will remember these folks with whom I worked on the last three days of this roller coaster of a year. And I will do all I can to support policies which foster the dignity of work.

As Pope Francis said a few years ago:

“We do not get dignity from power or money or culture.

We get dignity from work.”

“Work is fundamental to the dignity of the person.

Work, to use an image, ‘anoints’ with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God who has worked and still works, who always acts.”

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2013/11/20/pope-francis-dignity-labor

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