Second Helpings delivered 2.6 million pounds of food last year.
As the local arm of the Lowcountry Food Bank and Feeding America, the nonprofit charitable food distribution group is required to keep track of all the food they pick up and drop off. Then they must report that data back to the Lowcountry Food Bank. They also use the information as a tool for fundraising through the United Way, the Bargain Box, the Beaufort Fund and other organizations.
That task has been a daunting one, Second Helpings president Jon Peluso said. Volunteers used to write all the information on pieces of paper and then enter them into a database. The figures weren't exactly accurate.
"When we were implementing this system, I was looking at the old sheets on a daily basis, and I used to joke that it was like the Bible," Peluso said. "Some days we picked up 1,900 pounds and dropped off 2,000."
But thanks to students at Bowdoin College in Maine, keeping track of those numbers is now a lot easier.
Second Helpings volunteer Leigh Bullen was talking with his neighbor, Dr. Allen Tucker, a semi-retired professor who lives part-time on Hilton Head Island, when the professor offered to help the group with their data-collecting difficulties. Tucker told Bullen that he requires his students to write computer applications for charities.
Peluso and Tucker talked via Skype with the three college students every Thursday for about eight weeks. One of the students even came to the Lowcountry to perfect the system. The students came up with a program called Home Plate.
Home Plate is run on an Android tablet that rides along with volunteers on the Second Helpings trucks. Volunteers enter which of the three areas they are working -- Bluffton, Hilton Head or Beaufort. At each pickup location, they enter how many pounds of produce, meat, dairy, bakery and other items they collected. When they drop off food, they enter the amount they unload from the truck. The program calculates it all and tells them how much is on the truck at all times.
At the end of the day, one of the volunteers uploads the data at a Wifi hotspot, and the program zeroes out the balance on the truck. The system also eliminates the job of reporting the data back to the Lowcountry Food Bank. Now the food bank has remote access to the server and can look at the data whenever they like.
The program and the Androids -- one for each of the five Second Helpings trucks -- cost the group nothing. The Long Cove Club Community Endowment Fund gave the organization a $3,100 grant to cover the cost of the tablets and other equipment.
Second Helpings began using the new program in September, and Peluso said they had the whole thing implemented in all three areas within a month.
"It was really pretty neat," he said. "This thing has eliminated so much paperwork."
Peluso said the majority of his 225 volunteers are retirees, some in their 80s. But they haven't let age stop them from learning something new.
"They've just embraced this," he said.
Peluso said he wrote an eight-page user's manual, but they never even used it because the program is so simple.
Volunteer Paddy O'Brien said he's not tech-savvy at all. Yet he's usually the one in charge of the Android when he's on the truck.
"It's amazing what (they've) done here with the program," he said. "It makes things easier for us."
Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy .