Second Helpings 'rescues' 20 million pounds of food in 20 years

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 24, 2012 

  • To volunteer or get more information, call Second Helpings at 843-816-1488.

Never underestimate the power of a good idea.

Guenther Hecht often came down to Hilton Head Island from Atlanta, where he worked in community relations for the Rich's department store. He brought with him the idea to "rescue" the food that supermarkets, restaurants and hotels planned to throw away at the end of the day and deliver it to the hungry.

Linda Silver recalls Hecht bursting into the Volunteer Center, where she helped connect volunteers with local needs.

"He said he wanted to start at 4 p.m. that day," Silver said.

It wasn't that quick. But the organization they would call Second Helpings did get started, and this week it will celebrate its 20th anniversary. More important, it celebrates the delivery of 20 million pounds of food to more than 70 nonprofit agencies and churches throughout Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties.

Silver had seen the idea in play years earlier, standing in a grocery store with the late Charlotte Heinrichs, founder of The Deep Well Project. The grocer said he had to throw something out, and Heinrichs said no, she knew someone who needed it.

When Guenther Hecht stood before Silver with his idea, she knew he would need a lot of help.

Urged by Guenther and his wife, Louise, Silver stood up at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head and asked for volunteers to pick up leftover food from restaurants and hotels and deliver it to needy families.

Trum and Millie Haskell were the first to respond. They drove a route four or five days a week for 12 years -- into their mid-80s.

In that first year, 14 drivers and helpers picked up 46,000 pounds of food. Five years later, it had grown to 268,000 pounds of food. It surpassed 1 million pounds in 2000.

Last year, 323 Second Helpings volunteers -- running routes out of Hilton Head, Sun City and Beaufort in five trucks -- picked up and delivered more than 2.6 million pounds of food. The increase is due in part to a relationship with the Lowcountry Food Bank and its partnership with Feeding America.

They help nonprofits spread limited budgets by providing food for clients, from children at the Boys & Girls Clubs to the elderly in senior centers way off the beaten path. They help churches -- from the large Community Bible Church in Beaufort to small ones in Jasper County -- as well as at least five soup kitchens and several food pantries.

Last month, 40 businesses donated food, with Publix, Bi-Lo, Food Lion, Sam's Club, Walmart and Pepsi Bottling Co. the major donors. Last year, businesses in the Bluffton area contributed more than 1 million pounds of food, with Beaufort-area collections second and Hilton Head third.

Second Helpings depends on financial contributions from the public and from other nonprofits, foundations and churches to keep the trucks rolling. Fuel is its greatest expense.

Its annual fundraisers include a "Tin Cup" golf raffle and the Birdies for Charity program at the RBC Heritage golf tournament. Coastal States Bank, H2 Builders and Hilton Head Shell have paid to advertise on the Hilton Head truck. It got nice donations last year from the community Christmas dinner on Hilton Head, and the upscale Music to Your Mouth culinary event at Palmetto Bluff.

Second Helpings has a staff of three, headed by executive director Peggy Warnke, and a 19-member board, chaired by Bob Petersen.

The Hechts have moved back to Atlanta, where Guenther Hecht founded a Second Helpings program at Temple Sinai.

And things have come full circle for Linda Silver. She's now a helper on a Second Helpings truck.

"I was rotating off the Memory Matters board and wanted something to do at the grassroots level," she said.

She joins other volunteers trying to give power to a good idea.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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