Second Helpings, Gina Brooks

In a time of so much wastefulness, so much short-sightedness, Second Helpings stands out as a brilliant concept functioning brilliantly. Instead of wasting fresh food that would be discarded by local restaurants and grocery stores, Second Helpings’ mostly volunteer staff cooks and serves it to hungry people. Not only that, the preparation process becomes a teaching tool for people who need a marketable skill.

Each week, Second Helpings ‘rescues’ enough food, usually perishables like dairy, produce, meats and breads, to feed 3,000 people. Ready-to-eat meals go to 50 different non-profits serving needy populations: the homeless, senior citizens, inner-city children and people in addiction programs. “It’s kind of like one of those, ‘Gee, I wish I would have thought of that ideas,’” Executive Director Gina Brooks says. “It just makes sense.”

Second Helpings, a non-profit business based in downtown’s southeast side, started as an idea here in 1995. The founders were all chefs: Kristen Cordoza, Jean Paison and Bob Koch. They raised $160,000 before opening their doors. “That told us the community was behind us,” Brooks says, who was the organization’s office manager at the beginning. Second Helpings opened in its first building in 1998 and bought its current facility, a large industrial building, in January of 2004. After starting with two paid staff members, a paid driver and two volunteer drivers, Second Helpings now employs 12 people, many being graduates of the food-preparation training program there, and benefits from the help of 350 volunteers.

So far, Second Helpings has trained 170 people currently holding jobs in the food-service industry. Most of them, Brooks says, were on public assistance programs before emerging with their new skills.

While it quietly does so much good behind the scenes, the general public may know Second Helpings best from its unique fund-raising events. In February, for example, Second Helpings hosted a popular Souper Bowl event, where chefs created tasty soups for public samplings. In April, it offered the Indy’s Ultimate Chef competition. The Tonic Gallery and Tonic Ball fund-raisers happen in Fountain Square on Nov. 18.

“We have some pretty cool fund-raisers,” Brooks says. “Marketing is one of our major strategies. When we say ‘food rescue’ to people, they often aren’t sure what that is. People know Second Helpings but aren’t sure what we do. We hope these events can help people understand better.”

What Second Helpings does is conserve. Simple as that. “With all of the available resources we have here, we’re just taking what was going into the dumpster and feeding 3,000 people,” Brooks says. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

- Jim Walker

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