INMAN — While most high school seniors struggle to feed themselves more than Gatorade and ramen noodles, Max Harman is feeding 50,000 people.
Harman raised $12,500 for his senior project at Inman High School, which will provide 50,000 meals through Meals of Hope to those in need.
"I ended up reaching that goal earlier this month. Meals of Hope had a little challenge for us FFA members who attended a conference, Living to Serve or LTS, this past summer if we wanted to do an event like that at our school level. If we could raise enough money to package 50,000 meals then as a bonus, Meals of Hope would provide a scholarship for another student to go back to that conference," Harman explained. "I got that number as a ballpark from the conference and I set that as my goal. I didn't know if I would be able to reach it or not and I did."
While attending the conference last summer in Washington D.C., the Meals of Hope organization spoke to Harman for many reasons.
"I did some research before choosing them (Meals of Hope). I knew there are a couple of different organizations that do similar work, but I chose them because their cost per meal was the cheapest, at only a quarter," he said. "Part of that I think is because I get to choose the meals and where they go. Most will stay local, so that helps reduce cost in shipping. This will leave some impact closer to home."
To begin his project, Harman sat down with his senior project coordinator, Kim Baldwin, to brainstorm potential sponsors.
"I started asking my family and friends if they knew of any sponsors. After I found some, I sent out letters explaining my project. I heard back from some (sponsors) and some I didn't. After that, I started working back and forth with my contacts to get funds secured," he said.
Not only has Harman been working with sponsors, but school administration has chipped in as well.
"The secretaries and administrators here at the high school got an activities fund set up for when all the money comes in and they have gotten all that organized before it goes to Meals of Hope. Then I started working with Meals of Hope to coordinate the event and they do a really good job of making sure I don't have to handle all the logistics of getting the food here. My job is to coordinate the fundraising and getting volunteers," he said.
While the project may be a rather large one to complete, Harman isn't a stranger to community service.
"Most people have a negative stigma against community service — like it's something people only do if they have to. But for me, through FFA and 4-H and other organizations I'm a part of, I've gotten to do events like this and I've grown fond of them," Harman said.
On Friday, around 60 to 80 Inman High School students in different time frames assisted Harman in packaging the macaroni and cheese dinners.
"I chose macaroni and cheese because it was the same meal I packaged in Washington — so I'm familiar with it and a lot of people like mac' and cheese. We will have a person scooping in the macaroni, one person scooping the soy protein and vitamins and putting it in a sealer. You can package a lot of meals in a quick and easy assembly line with that setup," he added.
Not only is this a time to give back to others, Harman noted it's a time to be humble and kind.
"You get to see your friends as well. It's not just about packaging the meals, it's about giving a taste of that community service and having that be a fun thing to do. It also gives kids a taste for it — it helps students and the people on the receiving end of the meals," he said.
To reach his goal, Harman said he can't take all the credit as he has had help from family, friends and teachers at his school.
"It was a lot of foot work on my part looking up phone numbers, calling people, sending out letters. But for the most part, I've been doing it pretty much on my own. However, I can't take all the credit. Mrs. Baldwin has been reaching out to the media and my family has helped me out a lot by connecting me with businesses and friends they knew," he said.
Contact Brooke Haas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ MacSenteinl.