5,000,000 Pounds of Food Rescued!

Pace Academy volunteers, Costco and Hope House celebrate Second Helpings Atlanta’s 5 millionth pound of rescued food.

Each year, Second Helpings Atlanta sets records for the amount of food rescued and the number of meals delivered to hungry families – through our partner Agencies. It’s hard to believe that a volunteer project in 2004 designed to bring people together around a common cause has transformed into a 470-person food rescue organization. The impact Second Helpings Atlanta (SHA) has had on fighting Atlanta food insecurity and food waste is simply amazing!

And it gets even better. Today we reached a milestone that was inconceivable in 2004 and is still astounding today: Second Helpings Atlanta rescued its 5,000,000th pound of food!

Today’s milestone celebration included food donated by Costco Cumberland Mall and Pace Academy families doing the pickup and delivery to our partner Agency, Hope House. Representatives from each organization were on hand to commemorate the event.

Many miles of driving ahead
When our grassroots food rescue project started, our very first t-shirts featured the slogan, “Driving Hunger Out of Atlanta.” Today, the t-shirt reads “Driving Out Hunger One Mile at a Time”. As we look to the future, we know that the road ahead is mired with an ever-increasing need for rescued, nutritious food. We are dedicated to staying on the road for the long haul, increasing our impact, building community and inspiring others along the way.

Shifting into Reverse
In 2004, I approached Rabbi Segal at Temple Sinai Atlanta, offering to lead a social action project involving congregants of all ages. Unbeknownst to me, another congregant, Guenther Hecht, had just expressed his interest in starting a congregational food rescue group. As it turns out, Guenther was a veteran in the food rescue business; he was the founder of Second Helpings Hilton Head, a very successful nonprofit with United Way Agency status, several refrigerated trucks, a professional staff and an office. Introductions were made, visions were shared, fellow congregant Shirley Leaderman came on board and our congregational project, Second Helpings Atlanta, was born.

Learning How to Drive
It took several weeks to structure leadership, reporting and recruiting. We needed Volunteers to pick up food, Food Donors (restaurants, super markets, schools and other organizations) willing to donate their excess food, and social service Agencies (non-profits working with families and individuals that are hungry or food insecure) capable of freezing and distributing the food. We presented our idea to the Temple Sinai congregation during religious services and placed brown paper bags on everyone’s chair so that interested congregants would have an easy way to donate food and contact us to volunteer.

We got to work on all the other details: designing triple-sheet food intake forms, selecting scales for weighing food donations, designing a logo, etc. Then, we held volunteer training sessions.

Our first Food Donor was Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, Temple Sinai Atlanta’s neighbor. We already had a long-standing relationship and they were happy to have us pick up excess lunch food on a weekly basis.

It was natural for us to ask Tamara Carrera at the Community Action Center (now known as the Community Assistance Center or CAC) to be our first Agency for distributing rescued food. Temple Sinai already had regular canned food drives that benefited the CAC. Back then, the CAC was in a tiny building behind Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. They didn’t have enough freezers for the food we delivered, so we solicited donations for a new freezer from Sears. My, has the CAC come a long way!

As our Volunteer ranks grew, we added Food Donors and Agencies. The work was energizing: visiting potential Agencies and checking out the facilities, figuring out whether their location and receiving hours were convenient for our drivers, etc. The best part of all, though, was seeing the grateful faces of the people waiting in line for the food we delivered. It was neighbor helping neighbor. Nothing felt better.

As we grew, we implemented a leadership succession model. We held annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinners complete with centerpieces comprised of food that was donated at the end of the evening. Agency directors met and spoke with our Volunteers. We built a community of people doing great things. One of our oldest volunteers, who was long-retired, told us that volunteering for SHA was the finest work he had ever done. He couldn’t wait to wake up every morning to drive his route – and he had plenty of routes!

Breaking the Speed Limit
Knowing when it’s time to take a huge leap of faith is tough. As we continued to grow by leaps and bounds, we grew too large for the confines of a congregational social action project. Although we had strategy meetings where we debated how to increase our impact, we couldn’t decide which option was best. We discussed teaching congregations of all faiths throughout Atlanta to start their own food rescue project. We studied becoming an umbrella organization that facilitated the formation of small “franchise” Second Helpings organizations. We also debated whether we should become an official non-profit.

We decided on the latter and achieved 501(c)(3) non-profit status in January, 2013. Second Helpings was renamed Second Helpings Atlanta, Inc. David Schoenberg, a long-time, very involved Second Helpings Volunteer became the first President of Second Helpings Atlanta. Two years later, we hired our first Director, Joe Labriola. Joe has brought tremendous leadership, energy, vision, outreach and momentum to our organization. Our growth since his arrival has been astounding!

Join Us for the Ride
Many Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless. Food insecurity is growing at an alarming rate. Doing good in the community feels good and is the right thing to do. Contributing just 90-minutes of time each month can positively impact so many people.  It’s fulfilling, rewarding and empowering. If you have a car, some helping hands or simply a loving heart, please join our family.  Donate your time or support our food rescue efforts financially. You’ll be taking a joy ride, for sure!