Students set world record while fighting homelessness


A group of San Diego seventh graders thought outside the box about homelessness when they created the world’s largest cardboard box mosaic on Sunday, using nearly 4,000 cereal packages slated for a local food bank.

The students, from Francis Parker School, lined the floor of their gymnasium with red boxes of Quaker Puffed Rice in the shape of a heart, set against a blue backdrop of Puffed Wheat. Their design measured 2,213.22 square feet, beating the previous record – 250.62 square feet of fragrance boxes — by more than eight-fold. Afterward they sent the boxes to Interfaith Community Services, which will distribute them to its clients in the coming weeks.

The project took over a year to plan and most of the weekend to execute, and was the idea of Kenan Pala, a seventh grader at the school. At the beach with his dad, he saw a group of people caring for an injured seal, and wondered if they would take similar interest in a human.

“We thought, what if that was a homeless person?” asked Kenan, 12. “Would they still help out? So that led me to the idea of raising awareness about homelessness. People tend to care about animals, but don’t care about their own kind.”

He decided to organize a food drive while also setting a record, reasoning that the quirky task could put shine a spotlight on the problem.

“It’s a fun process,” he said. “If you get in the book, it’s good advertising.”

When he approached Interfaith about his plan, the first reaction was surprise, Executive Director Greg Anglea said.

“I didn’t know that such a record existed,” he said. “It seemed a little abstract.”

He welcomed the donation though, and the compassionate message it sent.

“I think it just shows that everybody can make a difference, whether it’s donating a box of cereal or making the world’s largest cereal box mosaic,” Anglea said.

Jenna Kim, one of the team members assembling the mosaic, was working on the food drive and mosaic to help earn her Girl Scout Silver Award, and said it showed that such efforts “can help the world become a better place.”

Guinness Adjudicator Christina Conlon said many of the records she judges are a bit obscure, from the world’s largest Nerf gun battle to the most people making sandwiches at one time. That novelty can help spread the word about charitable causes, she said.

“This cereal box mosaic isn’t something people would know is a thing,” she said. “But when you see it laid out, it’s pretty amazing.”

Students unloaded the cereal boxes, donated by Quaker, on Saturday, and began piecing together the heart. On Sunday they completed the mosaic, stepping carefully between boxes to straighten rows and fill in the spaces.

It got stressful when they had to tiptoe into the mosaic to fix a gap or replace a busted box, said Kenan’s classmate Taj Gillin, 12. But as they neared the end of the project, he said it was worth the effort.

“I think it will empower kids to help because we’re just a bunch of seventh graders breaking a record, but we’re also helping a cause,” he said.