There were over 170,000 Hoosiers in Marion County alone facing food insecurity in 2016, according to Feeding America. That includes more than 46,000 children.

Numbers are one thing, but it’s sobering to see food insecurity up close, which is what the communications team of the Indiana Chamber did last week at a local food rescue organization known as Second Helpings.

A few years ago, our senior staff instituted 16 paid hours annually to volunteer in our communities. While many of us have organizations we support individually, we haven’t done much coordination of those volunteer days.

This year, our entire organization is making a concerted effort to do more – together.

Our communications team chose to spend a volunteer shift at Second Helpings, started over 20 years ago by three local chefs who aimed to curb food waste happening in their kitchens.

Six of us arrived around 11:30 a.m. last Thursday for a tour guided by Statia Murphy, the organization’s partnerships & donor engagement manager.

What is food rescue, anyway?

Food rescue is just what it sounds. Restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and others end up with food that is perishable or overstocked. They divert it from going to the trash by donating that food to Second Helpings.

For example, when a grocery store can’t sell food because it’s too close to the “sell by” date, it makes the perfect food donation. Or extra food prepared for large meetings or events can provide a nutritious meal for those in need. Not only does the organization turn that food into meals for over 90 local agencies, but that food is also kept out of the waste process.

Second Helpings rescues over 2 million pounds of food annually with the help of 750 volunteers.

The organization also offers a job training program! Students in the seven-week culinary training institute prepare meals that are served to staff, volunteers and others during the day. After our tour, we ate a delicious lunch (the cheese grits were so good) and enjoyed some team camaraderie before moving on to our volunteer shift.

(Seriously, where else do you go volunteer that they also feed you really good food?)

Chop, dice, wash, repeat!

Once we’d had our fill of lunch and some camaraderie, we met Maribeth Salkovsky, volunteer services coordinator. She helped arrange our visit and got us set up with aprons, towels, hairnets and gloves.

We then met our volunteer instructor, Carl, who put us to work dicing beef into small cubes for a meal that would be served to hungry children.

And we diced. And diced. And diced. By the end, my hands smelled like beef (even through the gloves). But we made it through an entire rack filled with beef, which felt like a major accomplishment!

We also danced (okay, that was just me) along to the music playing in the background, told stories, talked about sports and television shows and spent time one-upping each other with beef-related puns, which is what happens when you get a bunch of word nerds together.

Mooooooving on.

Once the beef was diced and put into the refrigerator, we cleaned up and moved over to quartering tomatoes.

No tomatoes were dropped. Only one finger was accidentally sliced. By the end of our shift, we were all tired.

But it was a remarkable experience, and I believe we all came away with a better understanding of what food rescue is, and what it takes to help those that are facing food insecurity and hunger.

Thank you to Second Helpings and the dedicated people making such an impact on the Indianapolis community and beyond!

Your turn

Does your organization pay you to help in the community by giving you volunteer days? You should use them!

If you’re looking for ways to get started with volunteering in central Indiana, here are a few resources to help: Peruse the IndyHub web site or check out the web site for the United Way of Central Indiana here.

Charlee Beasor is the communications & PR manager for the Indiana Chamber. She is also a writer for the Chamber’s award-winning BizVoice magazine and has been with the organization for eight years.