September 5, 2008

Recipe for success: Second Helpings feeds the hungry in Indianapolis

Volunteer Tim Barbour of Indianapolis stirs about 600 servings of spaghetti in a 35-gallon tilt skillet at the Second Helpings production kitchen. St. Joan of Arc parishioner Nora Spitznogle of Indianapolis, director of operations for Second Helpings, said “everything happens on a giant scale here.” (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Volunteer Tim Barbour of Indianapolis stirs about 600 servings of spaghetti in a 35-gallon tilt skillet at the Second Helpings production kitchen. St. Joan of Arc parishioner Nora Spitznogle of Indianapolis, director of operations for Second Helpings, said “everything happens on a giant scale here.” (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

Through its unique recipe for success, Second Helpings offers free, nutritious meals and second chances to low-income people living in the Indianapolis area.

Key ingredients are food rescue, job training and hunger relief. Add generous dashes of volunteer help and stir in donations then mix with friendship.

The not-for-profit organization’s mission statement of “eliminating hunger and empowering people” is an ambitious goal, but amazingly not a daunting one for the efficient 21-member staff. (See a photo gallery)

Every Monday through Saturday, staff members, culinary students and volunteers work together to prepare and deliver 2,900 meals daily—which are hot and ready to eat—to more than 50 social service organizations that feed hungry people in central Indiana. Almost half of the food goes to agencies that serve children.

To accomplish that incredible task six days a week, Second Helpings staff members and volunteers, many of them Catholic, rescue more than 100,000 pounds of donated perishable and overstocked food in the Indianapolis area every month.

In the organization’s production kitchen, food donations are quickly transformed into nutritious lunches for children in center city day care programs, senior citizens and homeless people who seek help at the Wheeler Mission downtown.

As chief executive officer of Second Helpings, Cynthia Hubert of Indianapolis has seen lots of successes in the organization’s day-to-day operations—from generous corporate support and enthusiastic volunteer groups to a former prisoner’s employment at a restaurant after completing the culinary job training program.

Earlier this year, Hubert said, a day care provider called Second Helpings to offer her thanks for the nectarines sent with their lunches, a fruit that she said many of the children had never eaten before.

“We save the [social service] agencies almost $2 million a year because we’re providing food and they don’t have to run a kitchen or buy food,” she said. “We bring it in and it’s all free.”

Some of the rescued food is used by staff members during cooking classes to train unemployed or underemployed adults for careers in the restaurant industry.

“We have the wonderful blessing of getting good food and good people to prepare it,” Hubert said. “We have a good time in the kitchen dreaming up nutritious meals that the kids will want to eat. Our volunteers even cut the meat and vegetables into smaller pieces if the meal is going to feed children. … Our volunteers like the people to know that they care about preparing their food.”

Founded in 1998, Second Helpings is a United Way agency that now operates in commercial kitchen facilities at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Center, 1121 Southeastern Ave., in Indianapolis.

In just 10 years, Hubert explained, Second Helpings staff members and volunteers have collected 10 million pounds of food and provided 3.9 million meals to recipient agencies.

Also in the last decade, she said, more than 300 disadvantaged adults have graduated from the organization’s culinary job training program and found employment at area restaurants.

Bill Bickel, director of the archdiocese’s Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis, said the shelter was one of the first receiving agencies for meals from Second Helpings 10 years ago.

Bickel refers shelter clients to Second Helpings for culinary job training, and the shelter’s kitchen manager completes their serve-safe training, a food handling certification program for public kitchens required by the state and county health departments.

Hubert said Second Helpings’ mission is made possible by and dependent upon financial support, volunteer help and food donations from central Indiana corporations, restaurants, grocery stores, faith communities and individuals.

Each day, every man, woman and child in America throws away about a pound of food, according to national statistics, which amounts to an estimated 27 percent of the available food supply while 33 million impoverished adults and children go hungry. Of those hungry Americans, about 40 percent are children.

Second Helpings staff, students and volunteers are dedicated to stopping food waste in Indianapolis, Hubert said, and enjoy creating delicious, attractive and nutritionally balanced meals for the poor in very large quantities.

She said new volunteers and donors are critical to the long-term success of the organization’s mission.

St. Malachy parishioner Dale Ternet of Brownsburg has volunteered in the production kitchen at Second Helpings nearly every Wednesday for two years.

“I’m retired and have the time,” Ternet said. “You just feel good when you’re here helping people. All the people we work with here seem awful nice. You meet a very diverse group of people. The students really seem to be people who have taken the class seriously and tried to better themselves.”

Ternet helps coordinate a community garden maintained by the Knights of Columbus Council #12540 at St. Malachy Parish, and he brings fresh vegetables to Second Helpings during the growing season.

“I like to garden,” he said. “It’s one of my hobbies. I have personally brought in over 2,000 pounds of fresh produce that came out of our [community] garden.”

Hubert said longtime volunteers like Ternet become friends with the culinary students and help the staff members encourage them to strive for success.

“There was one lady named Donna who came through the school,” Ternet recalled. “She was putting her life back together. You could see a change in her from week to week, how her appearance looked better and she had a smile. After she went through the class, she came back for lunch a few weeks ago. She had a [restaurant] job and was excited about paying taxes. She had a library card. It was a new beginning for her.”

Donna received clothes from Dress for Success, a not-for-profit organization in Indianapolis, and orthodontics care to replace her missing front teeth from another social service provider, Hubert said, but Second Helpings was the catalyst for her second chance as a wage-earner in the workforce.

Second Helpings also operates Just ‘Cause Catering, Hubert said, which raises funds to help sustain the not-for-profit organization. The catering business does not use rescued food.

St. Joan of Arc parishioner Nora Spitznogle of Indianapolis, director of operations for Second Helpings, formerly served as the director of volunteers. She earned a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management at Purdue University and has worked in the restaurant business for 20 years.

“I have the best job here in that I get to oversee all the programs—the food coming in, the food going out and the students being trained,” she said. “Feeding people is the most basic and best thing you can do to help them get a good start in life. Our mission statement really says it all in that we rescue food, help relieve hunger and educate adults. It’s very unique in the community and even across the country, and it just makes so much sense.

“Second Helpings was the brainchild of three chefs in the community,” Spitznogle said, “who realized there was food waste and the need for qualified, trained adults in the restaurant business. And they knew there was hunger in the community.”

Ten years later, “it’s just amazing logistics—what happens here every day—and there is so much camaraderie among the staff, volunteers and students,” she said. “It’s the happiest place I have ever worked. It’s a great volunteer experience in that it’s very hands on and you can see the fruits of your labor when you’re done.”

(For more information about Second Helpings or to volunteer for the food rescue and job training ministry, call 317-632-2664 or log on to their Web site at For more information about hiring Just ‘Cause Catering, which raises funds for Second Helpings, call the event coordinator at 317-632-2664, ext. 14.)

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