Stepping Up to the Plate: Food rescue nonprofit Second Helpings Atlanta rises to the challenge of COVID-19

Though it was hit hard in every way by COVID-19, the Second Helpings Atlanta food rescue organization continues to deliver.

As the pandemic gripped Atlanta, many SHA volunteer drivers sidelined themselves and food donors such as corporate kitchens and event centers fizzled as office workers transitioned to working from home and events were cancelled.

Meanwhile, requests for food increased “dramatically” from SHA’s 55 partner agencies, including soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, after-school programs and other nonprofits that distribute food, said Andrea Jaron, the organization’s executive director since September 2019.

Requests are also pouring in from nonprofits not currently in the network, particularly from those that serve the elderly and children, she said.

But with some major assists from local and national donors and partners, SHA is holding its own in its mission to help feed the hungry.

“We have the good fortune that there is a lot of food that is available. Our food network is really strong. The grocery stores have been really solid with providing very large donations on a regular basis,” Jaron said.

The surplus, perishable food donated to SHA these days comes from 75 food donors including grocery stores, big box retailers, and, to a lesser degree, hospitals, schools and stadiums.

In 2019, the organization’s volunteers rescued 1.7 million pounds of food. By the end of October, they had rescued another 1.4 million pounds of food plus more than 400,000 prepared meals provided by a couple of new major initiatives.

During the holiday season, SHA partnered with ATLFamilyMeal, Inc., a nonprofit supporting Atlanta’s COVID-impacted hospitality community, to rescue excess food donations and transform them into more than 3,700 holiday meals for Atlanta families.

Among the recipients was COR, a nonprofit located at Atlanta’s Carver STEAM High School whose mission is to “unlock the potential of underserved, trauma-impacted students.”

Jennifer Henn, COR’s executive director, said, “SHA literally made Thanksgiving for almost 100 of our families.”

“By providing them with a prepared and delicious meal from Poof of the Pudding, SHA allowed our families to not only have a special meal, but to not have to worry about buying the ingredients and cooking the meal themselves,” Henn said. “In addition, the food COR receives from Whole Foods allows our families to have additional prepared meals which removes one small worry for them when they have so many other struggles to deal with.”

In another massive effort, SHA joined forces last spring with the Atlanta Community Food Bank to launch the Atlanta Community Kitchen Project. The partnership connected hunger relief agencies with commercial kitchens and was funded in large part by members of the Atlanta Rotary Club.

From May to October, more than $1 million was donated to support the initiative in which 10 kitchen partners provided 465,780 individually packaged, family style meals to 33 partner agencies, Jaron said.

Other help came in the form of drivers and vehicles.

In the spring, SHA lost most of its 400 volunteer drivers – 39 percent of whom were age 60-plus. By July, some felt comfortable enough to return and now there are 150 active volunteers.

To help fill the void, last summer SHA hired some temporary part-time drivers, and businesses such as Goldbergs Fine Foods loaned a few employees to work as full-time drivers for SHA for six weeks rather than be furloughed, Jaron said.

Mercedes-Benz USA loaned SHA five sprinter vans to help with the Kitchen Project, and this fall the organization received a donated van from Whole Foods.

“People who have never had a need before are suddenly in a position where they need to ask for help,” Jaron said. “I think that it’s incredible how the community has come out to help not just Second Helpings Atlanta but all of these different entities that are trying to get food to as many people as we all possibly can.”

Learn more at secondhelpingsatlanta.org.