After a long day of work, the last thing anyone wants to do is ride a bus for two more hours to get home before tackling the question of dinner for the family.
For about 300 employees who commute to Bluffton and Hilton Head Island each day, that scenario is the norm.
A recent partnership between Palmetto Breeze Transit and Second Helpings has been providing food to about 60 to 80 of those workers every Thursday. The food is distributed at the hub station in Bluffton, where commuters switch buses for a long ride home.
Fill the Need was launched in early October and is supported by a number of businesses and organizations in the area, including Whole Foods. The program, still in its first phase, is expected to expand to support additional locations in the future. They are hoping to find a church eventually, to help volunteer and direct the distributions.
Second Helpings is the only nonprofit agency in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties that rescues food and delivers it to food banks and pantries. About 80 percent of the food pantries throughout those counties receive food from the organization, according to Lili Coleman, executive director.
The newest member of Second Helpings’ board of directors, Margie Tomczak, is coordinating Fill the Need.
“Tomczak was instrumental in fundraising to re-open Mercy Mission in Hardeeville,” Coleman noted. “Weekly, she recruits volunteers and hauls food to the hub station in Bluffton to distribute approximately 65 bags of food weighing upwards of 10 pounds each.”
Volunteers distribute food in soft coolers, 500 of which were donated by Food Lion; a grant from the Junior League of Bluffton was used to purchase refrigerators and freezers to store the food at the station.
The effort began with the six commuter buses that start in Bluffton at the Palmetto Breeze transit station. Employees often arrive too late to reach food banks and food pantries. With incomes below the poverty level and limited transportation, grocery shopping is a daunting obstacle.
Buses arrive at the hub station, the commuters disembark. In the 25 minutes between the arrival and more buses departing to take the workers home, the food is distributed.
“It’s a rapid distribution, but all the workers have just been so gracious, kind and patient,” Coleman said. “At first they were apprehensive, but they quickly became appreciative.”
Second Helpings collects and distributes over 2.7 million pounds of food annually to 60 or more agencies and nonprofits. It is estimated that approximately 22,000 people benefit from food rescued by Second Helpings every year. To get involved, visit www.second helpingslc.org/help-the-hungry or call Coleman at 843-689-3689.
Shae Dalrymple is the assistant editor of the Bluffton Sun.