Temple Sinai’s Second Helpings: Social Action at its Best

by Guenther Hecht

On any given day in Atlanta, volunteers from Temple Sinai’s Second Helpings show up at grocery stores, restaurants, school cafeterias and catered events, load up their cars with leftover food, and deliver it to women’s shelters, food banks and other community service organizations that serve those in need. Most work alone and on a schedule that fits their own routine, but all believe in the value of reducing waste and in getting food to Atlanta’s hungry.

By the end of last month, Second Helpings had rescued two million pounds of food. In light of the growth in the number of donors and the size of their donations, it is possible that by the end of 2014, we will exceed the three million pound mark.

Is reaching these milestones reason to celebrate?

No, the milestones are not the news.

Sadly, the need for food assistance in our communities is not decreasing and the waste generated from our food distribution and marketing systems has not been alleviated.

What has happened is that more and more individuals are motivated to step up to make our world a better place, to do something to help fix the problem.

Their coming together for tikkun olam—repair of our world—is reason to celebrate.

The statistics are staggering:

  • An estimated 30 to 50 per cent of food produced for consumption in the United States ends up in landfills each year;
  • More than one quarter of America’s food (estimated to be anywhere from 96-200 billion pounds, depending on whose figures you use) goes to waste each year
  • This waste costs billions of dollars annually and could feed 47 million hungry Americans three times each day;
  • As food prices continue to rise, lines at soup kitchens and food banks are growing longer and longer;
  • After paper products, food is the second biggest source of waste in the United States.

This food donation initiative is modeled on one that my wife Louise and I started more than two decades ago on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Recognizing the tragic contradiction in these food statistics, we envisioned a coordinated act of tzedakah in which a network of volunteers collects nutritious, surplus food and delivers it safely and healthfully to agencies serving the disadvantaged within the community. From that vision, Second Helpings was born and stands today as a non-profit charitable food distribution project, committed to eliminating hunger and developing collaborative strategies that encourage self-reliance in areas in which it serves. Currently, the South Carolina project distributes more than two million pounds of food and grocery products annually and at no cost to more than 65 non-profit agencies in the Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton county region.

When Louise and I moved back to Atlanta in 2004, Second Helpings came with us. The Atlanta version got started as a Temple Sinai committee and has since transitioned into an incorporated non-profit entity, Second Helpings Atlanta, Inc. An active roster of more than 280 volunteers—most of whom are Temple Sinai members—gathers donated leftovers from 50 participating organizations and delivers the much needed goods at no cost to 20 community agencies throughout greater Atlanta while a small board of directors coordinates volunteers, donors, agencies, events and communications.

Individually and collectively, Second Helpings’ volunteers embody the essence of tikkun olam and are a tremendous source of pride to Temple Sinai, to Louise and me, and to the greater Atlanta community-at-large. Yasher koach to all!

Guenther Hecht is a member of Temple Sinai, Sandy Springs, GA, and the founder of Second Helpings. To find out how you can make an impact on hunger and food waste in your own community, contact Stephanie Wyatt at chair@secondhelpings.info.

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One Response to “Temple Sinai’s Second Helpings: Social Action at its Best”

  1. Larry Kaufman

    What a wonderful initiative! Kol hakavod.

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