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Anybody want a popcorn ball?

Lions, Sentinel students continue holiday tradition

December 18, 2007
By MaryAnn Kromer,
Shoppers at Kroger, the Pharm, Tiffin Hardware, IGA, Al’s Marathon, Rock Run and many other places in Tiffin no doubt have seen the giant bags of popcorn balls that appear every year at this time. For five weeks before Christmas, the Lions Club suspends their regular meetings to crank out nearly 100,000 popcorn balls. This year’s supply has been completed.

“We make them for 10 days. We try to average around 9,000 (per session),” said Lions Club member Gene Waltz.

The group has found a new home for the popcorn ball workshop. Lions member Matthew Brown offered space at his business, the M.J. Brown Co. Workers pop the corn, cook the syrup, mix everything together, shape the gooey product into balls, wrap them and bag them.

Although the club has a membership of about 100, some are not able to help.

Volunteers from the community have been joining club members to get the job done. Sentinel Career Center students have been helping for the last few years. Tom Renninger, Sentinel instructor for electrical trades, also coordinates community service projects for the students. This is the third year Sentinel students have worked on the Lions Club popcorn balls.

“I would see all these popcorn balls in all the stores, but I didn’t realize the process of how they were put together,” Renninger said.

Once he observed the scope of the project, he said he was amazed at the equipment they have built and the set-up they have perfected over the years. Renninger said about 50 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors have been involved this year.

“Our kids get to go out and mingle with them … and see the operation,” Renninger said.

Waltz said the club appreciates the energy of the youthful volunteers who can take on some of the tasks the aging club members no longer can manage as they once did. Besides, working with the young people has been a lot of fun, Waltz added.

“This year, they’re going to help us the whole year long. They’re in a statewide competition. If they win the state, they would go on to national.

They’re fantastic,” Waltz said.

“It’s part of our community service for the Skills USA endeavor we do every year. Last year, it was Garlo Park,” Renninger said.

“We used to do one project, for however long it lasted. Then I talked with Gene and decided to work with the club on their other projects.”

The club conducts broom sales, sells daffodils for the cancer society, cooks breakfast for participants in the Relay for Life in May and collects eye glasses from area optometry offices. Renninger said he tries to take photographs of the students doing volunteer work so their parents have a pictorial record of their children’s community activities.

For the competition, students must keep a chapter scrapbook and do research on the projects they undertake. Renninger said Hank Elchert, director at Sentinel, believes in community service as a way to build character.

Students are encouraged to help others as they learn skills for themselves.

Sentinel has won first place in USA Skills at the state level for the past three years. In the national competition in Kansas City, Sentinel has placed in the top five chapters. A recent effort was helping rebuild the Diebel home that was heavily damaged when a car slammed into it. The project drew attention from the judges. It also opened Renninger’s eyes.

“Working on the Diebel home made me realize the importance of community service,” Renninger said. “The students take ownership of a project and see it through.”

On the last two days of the popcorn ball project, Renninger said Sentinel students prepared and served the food for the dinner prior to the work session. Most of the popcorn balls are sold, but others are given away.

“We donate 300-plus bags to all the schools in town, the nursing homes, Salvation Army, Sharing Kitchen — any worthwhile organization that helps the needy,” Waltz said.

This week, Renninger’s students are occupied with another service project. They will be supervising third-grade pupils from all the Tiffin schools who are coming to Sentinel to make Christmas ornaments.

Article Photos

Monica Reinbolt (from left), Jessie Little and Gary Meyers weigh the 2 1/2 tons of popped corn.



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