Second Helpings volunteers Larry Schmidt, left, and Tony Morris prepare to head out early one morning with one of the organization’s trucks parked in Sun City Hilton Head. The pair rescue food from local stores before delivering their truck load to Port Royal Methodist Church. GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

Every day, pairs of drivers and eight Second Helpings refrigerator trucks leave their parking spaces at about 8:30 a.m., and begin rescuing food from local groceries, farms and other food outlets.

By the end of each day, those trucks will have delivered their contents to more than 50 different agencies in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties that redistribute the food to those in need.

Last year during the pandemic, Second Helpings found food availability at a critical low.

“The amount of pickup depends on the day but we know when COVID started, we had no pickup because people were buying up food,” said Executive Director Lili Coleman. “We’re about back to normal but we are finding our agencies have about a 30% increase in clients. Now with donations and grants we’re buying food to supplement what we are not picking up.”

The eight trucks depart from Sun City Hilton Head, Beaufort and Hilton Head, and pick up meat, fresh produce and whatever is available at the various sources. Coleman said the organization will be purchasing about 1,000 turkeys to give out at the different agencies in rural areas that don’t get a lot of donations.

“The smaller agencies and churches don’t have the resources to purchase turkeys, so we’ll buy them,” Coleman said.

The food is also distributed to more than 60 commuters from Estill who ride The Palmetto Breeze public transportation to and from the Island, and then home.

“Every Thursday they get off their bus from the island if they worked there,” said Coleman. “At the Palmetto Breeze Transit Hub in Bluffton, we meet the commuters and provide food there because by the time they get home, none of the food pantries are open.”

The rescue is part of Don’t Waste Food South Carolina, a state Department of Health and Environmental Control program that works to feed more people while keeping edible food out of landfills.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that in 2011, roughly one third of world’s food was lost or wasted. That in turn wastes the resources used to produce that food, from labor and energy to water and land. So critical is the issue that “How to Cut Food Waste” was one of the topics discussed during the recent 26th annual climate change Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.

More than 300 Second Helpings volunteers drive, load and unload the trucks. Some have shifts every week, some every other week. In its 2019 annual report, Second Helpings reported 2,674,953 pounds of food were delivered by refrigerated trucks by 341 volunteers contributing 36,000 hours, driving 91,000 miles, feeding 19,037 people weekly and avoiding 16,172,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Coleman said the public can support local efforts to rescue food and contribute to food banks. Gift cards to local grocery stores are welcome as well as purchases of canned food and other non-perishables that can be held at the organization’s office. 

Second Helpings also works with the wholesalers to fill in items that go along with the dry goods, such as eggs and milk.

“The best thing a donor can do is say ‘buy what you need’ when you donate money,” said Coleman.

To volunteer, donate or get more information, call 843-689-3689, email, or write to 4 Northridge Drive, Suite C in Foundation Plaza, P. O. Box 23621, Hilton Head Island, SC 29925.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.