Less waste. Less hunger.
That’s the mission driving the 16-year-old nonprofit Second Helpings Atlanta and its army of 450 volunteers.
Seven days a week, these volunteers are out collecting fresh food that might otherwise be headed to a landfill and delivering it to food pantries, women’s shelters and other groups that feed the needy.
“We run over 150 routes every single week,” Andrea Jaron, SHA’s executive director, said. “It’s a pretty impressive logistics operation.”
Second Helpings Atlanta – which began as a social-action project at Atlanta’s Temple Sinai – collects about 122,000 pounds of food every 22 days, or 1.7 million a year – numbers largely unchanged during the pandemic, despite the temporary closings of some regular donors, such as restaurants and schools, Jaron said.
These donations of fresh, nutritious, and perishable food pour in from about 80 organizations, including Costco, Publix, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Piedmont Hospital, Emory Healthcare, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They are then quickly redistributed to the hungry through more than 40 nonprofits, such as Atlanta Mission, Covenant House, Loaves and Fishes, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“This is the message we like getting out: When you are helping Second Helpings, you are really helping multiple organizations,” Jaron said. “When we provide them with food, it frees up their resources and allows them to spend their money in other places.”
Second Helpings Atlanta was started by Guenther Hecht, a Holocaust survivor, longtime Atlantan, and former Rich’s department store vice president who felt a call to give back.
With support from his fellow congregants at Temple Sinai in Atlanta – including Shirley Bernes and Alli Allen – Hecht began reclaiming unused food to feed the hungry. The operation kept growing and eventually expanded into the current nonprofit, with six full-time employees.
“The companies were pleased as punch to have someone come by and pick up the food instead of having to throw it out,” said Hecht, who also organized Second Helpings in the Hilton Head and Beaufort areas of South Carolina.
Nonprofits, such as Action Ministries and Mary Hall Freedom House, are thrilled to have the donations from Second Helpings Atlanta, which arrive at their door 90 minutes after pick-up from the donor.
“Second Helpings is incredibly proactive in anticipating our needs all the time, but especially in the pandemic [with individually packaged servings],” said April Greenberg, program manager of the women’s community kitchen at Action Ministries.
The kitchen at Action Ministries serves 40 to 50 meals a day, relying on food donations from volunteer and business groups, Greenberg said.
“We use the food we get from Second Helpings to kind of supplement those meals so we can provide healthy, balanced, full hot meals to our clients,” she said.
Lucy Hall, founder and CEO of Mary Hall Freedom House, said Second Helpings Atlanta is “always going above and beyond to make connections between those who have and those who do not.”
The donations from Second Helpings never feel like someone’s leftovers. “They make you feel this was something made just for you,” Hall said.
Due to the pandemic, some volunteers have temporarily stopped helping collect the food donations. Mercedes-Benz has pitched in, loaning Second Helpings a fleet of sprinter vans to make the deliveries.
Mercedes-Benz USA and the Atlanta Braves, in partnership with its concessionaire, Delaware North, also have been putting their commercial kitchens to work, preparing and packaging thousands of meals for distribution in the community, Jaron said.
Among the volunteers staying on the road and keeping the 90-minute mission is 68-year-old Ned Cone, who is still collecting from two donors five days a week.
Cone started doing food rescue with Second Helpings in Atlanta in 2013, a year before he retired after 27 years in logistics for a cabinet manufacturer. He and his wife, Nadeen Green, also donated a refrigerated truck to the nonprofit in 2011.
“Because the need for food donations has increased significantly with the coronavirus, it is very heartwarming and humbling to know I am helping people less fortunate than me standing in line … for food graciously donated by companies through a vast network of volunteers who care for others,” he said.
MORE DETAILS ABOUT SECOND HELPINGS ATLANTA
One in six Georgians — and 1.1 million metro Atlantans — are classified as food insecure, meaning they lack sufficient, nutritious food for a healthy diet. The goal of Second Helpings Atlanta is to rescue nutritious, perishable food that grocery stores, school cafeterias, and corporations would otherwise discard and turn it over to one of more than 40 partnering agencies to feed those in need. The nonprofit does not accept food that has been served, comes from a personal home, or is a shelf staple with an expiration date. It accepts fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, deli meats, protein, bread and baked goods.
Where did the idea for the nonprofit come from? Guenther Hecht, a Holocaust survivor, has always felt the need to give back. His family escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 with $10 and determination. Hecht — who was working from age 11 selling "Liberty" magazine — retired as a vice president with Atlanta's iconic Rich's department store. Rich's gave 2% of the company's net profits to charities, and, in his work with the store and its charitable endeavors, Hecht said he saw that there were people in dire need of food. With help from congregants at Atlanta's Temple Sinai, he started Second Helpings Atlanta. He also started Second Helpings Hilton Head.
Says Hecht, founder and lifetime director: “There is much more hunger and deprivation in our country than people realize.”
Learn more or donate at secondhelpingsatlanta.org
HELP US INSPIRE ATLANTA
We recognize a big part of our journalistic mission is to shine a spotlight on wrongdoings and to hold our public officials accountable.
But we also understand the importance of celebrating our region’s moments, milestones and people. That’s exactly what we hope to accomplish with Inspire Atlanta.
Each week, Inspire Atlanta will profile a person who makes metro Atlanta a better place in which to live.
We can’t do this alone: We need your help in finding extraordinary people and identifying inspiring stories across our region. We learned about Second Helpings Atlanta from Mercedes-Benz USA. The automaker has recognized the nonprofit through its “Greatness Lives Here”initiative.
Know someone who inspires you or makes metro Atlanta a better place for others?
Email us at AJC-InspireAtlanta@ajc.com.