For 15 years, volunteers at Second Helpings Atlanta have picked up surplus perishable food from donors and immediately shuttled the bounty to partner agencies that feed the hungry.
Keeping track of every pound, the nonprofit food rescue organization says it rescued its 9 millionth meal on Dec. 6, 2018. A couple of months later, all of that experience came in handy for SHA as Super Bowl LIII descended on Atlanta.
Second Helpings Atlanta (SHA) was one of three organizations authorized by the NFL’s Sustainability Team to rescue food from NFL-sanctioned corporate events before and through the Super Bowl.
In a word, SHA scored.
Within a 10-day period, 31 of its volunteers, staff and board members rescued 17,044 pounds of food from 10 events.
That was food that would otherwise have been “dumped in a big green dumpster and hauled off to a landfill,” said the group’s Executive Director Joe Labriola.
Instead, food picked up from sites including State Farm Arena and Mercedes-Benz Stadium — both year-round SHA food donors — was delivered to 21 of the food rescue’s partner agencies located near the stadium.
Following the Super Bowl, SHA rescued 7,392 pounds of prepared food at the stadium in its biggest and most complex food rescue to date.
Labriola attributed the organization’s Super Bowl success to “outstanding advance planning” and the volunteers’ efforts.
“I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction at how well our operations team performed,” he said.
He was also moved by the quality of the stadium’s donations — food that didn’t come from its concession stands but from the stadium’s exclusive clubs and suites.
Volunteers picked up pans brimming with smoked brisket, shrimp and salmon, he said.
“State Farm Arena and Mercedes-Benz … those organizations are so supportive of this program,” Labriola said. “We show up and people shake our hand and say, ‘We are so proud to be doing this.’ ”
Partner agencies have let SHA know the food they receive at least once a week, free of charge, is uplifting to their clients.
A chef at one of those agencies told a volunteer driver he couldn’t wait to come up with a menu featuring the load of frozen shrimp he’d been given.
“What we’re delivering is joy,” Labriola said.
SHA works with more than 80 food donors and more than 50 partner agencies. About 95 percent of the food donated comes from grocery stores, corporate kitchens, stadiums and big box retailers.
Deliveries are made by 450 volunteers, currently ranging in age from 16 to 80, Labriola said.
They are assigned routes using a “90-minute model” designed to enable them to pick up a donation, deliver it, and return to their starting point within 90 minutes.
About one-third of the food rescue’s routes have been adopted by other organizations and corporations, who take on the driving, sometimes rescuing their own surplus food.
SHA had a banner year in 2018, with significant increases over 2017 in food rescued, funds raised, and in donors and partner agencies acquired, according to a recently released year-end report.
“We are ready and eager to build on last year’s growth,” Labriola said, “and drive out hunger, one mile at a time.”
Learn more about the food rescue at secondhelpingsatlanta.org.