Second Helping, Anyone?
Local non-profit group has been helping feed the hungry for over twenty-five years.
Story By David Pena
In 1991, Guenther and Louise Hecht noticed that enormous amounts of surplus food were being discarded on a regular basis by local grocery stores and restaurants. So using their own transportation, the Hechts, along with a small band of determined volunteers, started collecting the discarded food and delivering it to local food pantries. After six months of driving their own cars, they purchased their first refrigerated truck to help with the workload. Twenty-six years later, the organization known as Second Helpings is now a nonprofit food rescue and distribution network with over 250 volunteers whose primary goal is to totally eliminate hunger in the Lowcountry.
Second Helpings is a very unique type of 501c(3) charitable organization in that it serves other nonprofit agencies, as Executive Director Lili Coleman explains. “We don’t directly serve the general public. Rather, we provide food to other agencies who then disperse it to those in our community who are in need of food.”
And although it’s still run by the volunteers themselves, the organization is guided by a Board of Directors who help to oversee every aspect of the food rescue operation from recruitment of volunteers to funding development and logistics. Palmetto State Bank president Jan Malinowski, who also serves as President of the Board for the non-profit group, says, “Our board is in place to set long-term goals and strategies for Second Helpings. We basically do all the supporting activities necessary to keep the trucks running, which are manned by our wonderful volunteers, many of whom have been with the organization for over fifteen years.”
Second Helpings’ army of volunteers operates a fleet of eight trucks each day of the week, fifty-two weeks a year. The volunteers are divided into teams, who are then equipped with their own refrigerated truck for their assigned pickups and deliveries. “Many of our volunteers are retirees who have moved to Dataw, Fripp or Hilton Head Islands and who have banded together to support the efforts of Second Helpings. Most of them come with a wealth of knowledge and experience,” explains Malinowski, “and everyone feels really grateful for the opportunity to help members of our community who are unable to put food on their own table. There’s a lot of camaraderie and fellowship that’s generated.” Each day the teams, led by their day captain, pick up excess food inventories and deliver the food products to various recipient agencies, which include local churches, food pantries and soup kitchens in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties. Malinowski adds, “I’m very satisfied to be involved with an organization that helps so many in need in this three-county area. During my three years on the board, the people I’ve met, from the volunteers and fellow board members to the financial supporters and food providers, have all been terrific and really fun to work with. Everyone is extremely committed to the mission of Second Helpings, and it’s really great to be a part it.”
In addition to the food distribution, Second Helpings also has various fund-raising and awareness activities throughout the year. The organization recently held its second annual ‘Share the Bounty’, a well-attended fund-raising event held on Hilton Head each year.
“We promote the month of September as Hunger Awareness Month, and we recently held a paper plate awareness campaign with our agencies to spread the word,” says Coleman. “We’ve also launched another program called Healthy Food Initiatives, which allows us to buy much-needed fresh produce through private grant allocations.”
Additionally, board member and Dataw resident, Donna Klein spearheads the second annual Hunger Games, a fund-raiser that also serves as an awareness event for the organization. “Dataw Island is proud to be a very active supporter of Second Helpings with close to fifty volunteers who live here, and Hunger Games was a perfect way to get more of our residents involved. This year we will have fifteen teams competing in games that are not at all like the movie version’s. We obviously don’t hurt people,” Klein says with a smile. “There will be timed events involving the teams. We’ll be doing single elimination, so by the end of the event we’ll have a shoot-out with foam rubber arrows shot into targets to determine our winning team. This is not at all like the standard silent auctions and sit-down dinners that are commonplace (on the island). Instead, it’s a unique way to get people physically outside doing something fun and competing against each other for a good cause. It’s just a perfect fit for this active community.”
The Hunger Games will be held October 29 at 3:00 pm on Dataw Island at the gazebo next to the marina. Prior to the start of the games, there will be a parade involving all the participating teams to collect canned goods. The event includes a dinner as well as a silent and live auction that will include a ‘Build a Truck’ event, which allows attendees to make bids that help cover various maintenance costs for one of the eight delivery trucks.
While Second Helpings has experienced tremendous growth in its volunteer base and resources throughout its last quarter century, the organization’s mission has remained the same: namely to redistribute and provide food for those who need it most. Surprisingly, in the South Carolina Lowcountry the need is greater than ever before, as Jan Malinowski explains. “It’s worth pointing out that even in the Beaufort County area where we have tremendous wealth, there are some very poor areas,” he notes. “Many low income residents live in northern Beaufort County, Jasper County as well as Hilton Head who desperately need the efforts of Second Helpings. A good many of them work at the Plantations or on Hilton Head for minimum wage and can barely feed themselves and their families, so the food pantries and churches help to bridge the gap between a full dinner table and a partial dinner table.”
Thus, the organization basically acts as a liaison between the area’s food sources and the people who need food the most. Second Helpings has collected over 2.5 million pounds of food annually from 30 donors while serving about 60 area agencies and non-profits. Last year alone, an estimated 22,000 people benefited from the services that the organization provided, equivalent to over two million meals. To date, the non-profit group has distributed well over thirty million pounds of food to the needy.
For its efforts, Second Helpings has been awarded “Angel Charity Status” by the state of South Carolina, a distinction given by the Secretary of State to non-profit organizations whose administrative costs don’t exceed 10%.
Amazingly, Second Helpings has never solicited any agencies for the food that it provides, and the organization has never received any government funding. Instead, it relies solely on the generosity of donors in the community to fund its program, and over 80% of the donations goes directly to support the group’s food network operations. Volunteers help to keep the organization’s overhead low while still allowing its recipient agencies to use their funds toward their core missions with no overlap of services. Malinowski explains, “We raise funds for operating costs like gas, oil, tires and insurance for our trucks as well as for our targeted initiatives such as our Health Food Initiative, but we can always use more volunteers for our trucks, events and committees. We also invite members of the public to lend their support by giving donations, volunteering for a spot on a team, or just helping to expand our network.”
For all the great work that Second Helpings has done over the year, Executive Director Coleman would like to make one clarification about the organization. “Some people think that we’re part of the Lowcountry food bank, but we’re actually an independent agency and the only non-profit in the area that ‘rescues’ food and gives it away free of charge. We’re so very proud to be the agency that keeps good food from being put into landfills. However, without our food partners like Wal-mart and many others, we couldn’t do our job, so I want to sincerely thank them for their participation. We also want to discourage people from wasting food because it can really make a difference in someone else’s life.”
For more information about Second Helpings or to become a volunteer, contact Lili Coleman at (843) 689-3616