Diana Silverman parked on the loading dock of the Buckhead Fresh Market, poised to execute her Second Helpings Atlanta “food rescue” mission.
The store’s assistant manager, John Doss, stood at the ready inside with three shopping carts brimming with excess boxed and bagged delectables — specialty salads, artisan breads, some Quiche Lorraine, caramel apple pies, and turkey, Havarti cheese and cranberry sandwiches.
Within 15 minutes, the pair had finished filling the trunk and back seat of Silverman’s midsize car with 171 pounds of food. Then, she was off in a flash to deliver the bounty to My Sister’s House, a 264-bed shelter for women and children in Atlanta on Howell Mill Road.
Since its 2004 founding, Second Helpings Atlanta has picked up and delivered more than 5 million pounds of fresh and prepared food that would have otherwise become food waste.
Alli Allen, a board member and a founder of the group, called that milestone, reached May 21, “pretty amazing.”
“It makes me just so proud of how far we’ve come,” she said.
With 474 volunteers using their own vehicles and one refrigerated truck, about 118 pickups and deliveries of food are made by Second Helpings every week, said Joe Labriola, the group’s director.
Joining Fresh Market on a roster of nearly 60 food donors are Whole Foods, Target, Costco, Publix, Cox Enterprises, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts, as well as local restaurants, caterers, bakeries and school cafeterias. The organization also picks up one-time donations of leftovers, such as four trays of meatballs from a Taste of Atlanta event.
Donations are delivered at no charge to nearly 30 partner agencies serving the food insecure.
In Georgia, one in five people and 30 percent of children live in homes with limited or uncertain access to adequate food, according to government statistics.
“We know that we produce enough food in the United States to feed every man, woman and child,” Labriola said. “The challenge is in getting food from those who have it to those who need it.”
Food donors are happy to do a good thing for the community at no or very low cost, he said. “They just need to package it up for us to pick up,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I get hugs.”
Second Helpings Atlanta was modeled after a program in Hilton Head founded by Alpharetta area resident Guenther Hecht.
Hecht wanted to start a similar program at Sandy Springs’ Temple Sinai at about the same time Alli Allen was looking to start a huge community service project there. After years of steady growth, Second Helpings Atlanta became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2013.
Sandy Springs’ Community Assistance Center has been a partner agency since Second Helpings began. The organization is delivering about 30,000 pounds of food a month to the nearly 30-year-old CAC, according to Tamara Carrera, its CEO and executive director.
Families can now select these foods in a mini-market setting created a couple of months ago. “The food is so much better than what we distributed before,” said Carrera, referring to the years that the center was limited to canned and dry goods.
In Dunwoody, Second Helpings enables Malachi’s Storehouse to offer free food once a week to about 765 people in a market setting and through a hot meal served to about 200, said Kathy Malcolm Hall, executive director.
A few years ago, the nonprofit housed at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church began getting flash-frozen Whole Foods hot bar extras among its grocery deliveries.
Those items weren’t too popular at first because they didn’t look very appealing in their freezer bags, Hall said.
“So we decided to serve them, and the hot meal was born,” she said. “On Wednesdays, the church is turned into a cafe and market for the food marginalized.”
Hecht said he is thankful for everyone responsible for Second Helpings Atlanta’s success.
“Without our volunteers,” he said, “we would be nothing.”
The organization has a “90-minute model” for volunteer drivers who are asked to make just one run a month. Routes are assigned so they can pick up and deliver food and get back to their homes within about 90 minutes. They’re placed in small teams so they can fill in for each other when necessary.
Silverman, a Buckhead retiree, began volunteering for Second Helpings Atlanta about five years ago.
“I’ve never had to go hungry, and you take that for granted,” she said. “For a very little time and a little driving and a little elbow grease lifting stuff you get a better feeling than you deserve.”
–Donna Williams Lewis