Food program for commuting workers celebrates anniversary

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In this photo from November 2017, Fill the Need project coordinator Margie Tomczak, right, leads volunteers in packaging bags for bus riders. FILE PHOTO

Fill the Need, a collaboration started by Palmetto Breeze Transit and Second Helpings, the area's food rescue nonprofit, celebrated its two-year anniversary of service in October.

The program provides some 50 bus riders each week with thermal bags filled with over 12 pounds of produce, meats, and other food that is donated by Second Helpings food donors, primarily grocery stores.

The riders are workers who live in outlying towns and must take public transportation to their jobs on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton.

Fill the Need kicked off in October 2017 in response to a concern voiced by Palmetto Breeze leaders who recognized that many of the individuals who ride the buses to work on Hilton Head get home too late to go to food banks and pantries for food.

"Some of the riders spend two hours each way on the bus to get to and from their jobs," said Mary Lou Franzoni, executive director of Palmetto Breeze. "We heard them talk about their need for food and we knew we had to do something to help."

Second Helpings volunteers deliver the food that is then stored by Palmetto Breeze Transit employees, who also assist with setting up tables and clean-up for the weekly distribution. From 4:15 to 5:45 p.m. every Thursday, eight volunteers run the food packaging, registration and distribution.

That timeframe is the window when riders who got picked up on Hilton Head transfer at the Bluffton Palmetto Breeze hub to buses that take them home.

Margie Tomczak, a Hilton Head resident, coordinates the program for Second Helpings. She attributes its success to the dedicated volunteers, including those from Church of the Cross in Bluffton who distribute food one or two Thursdays each month. Some of the first volunteers who worked with Tomczak still volunteer today.

One rider employed at Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort lives in Walterboro with her daughter and son. She rides Palmetto Breeze buses to work. She thinks Fill the Need "is wonderful." She said, "I love everything that is given out and appreciate it so much. It saves me about $80 a month in food costs."

Fill the Need welcomes community support. The Spice and Tea Exchange in Coligny Circle on Hilton Head Island is accepting food donations for the program through Nov. 20. Preferred items include soups, canned chicken and tuna, canned vegetables, pasta and pasta sauce, and canned fruit.

To get involved in helping feed the hungry, visit secondhelpingslc.org or email execdirector@secondhelpingslc.org.

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