What’s your favorite part of Rosh Hashanah? Listening to the shofar? Casting away your sins during Tashlich?
For many people, the enduring aspects of the holiday center on food. Tearing off a chunk of a fresh, round challah. Savoring Bubbe’s tender brisket. Dipping apples into honey for a sweet new year. Food is a sacred and meaningful part of Jewish observance.
When Guenther Hecht, Alli Allen and Shirley Leaderman Bernes founded Second Helpings Atlanta in 2004, they wanted to link food and Jewish values in a new way. The nonprofit organization they created was an expression of tikkun olam, the mitzvah of working to repair a broken world.
The model was simple: Volunteer drivers would rescue surplus food from stores, schools and other sites and drive it to agencies that serve the hungry. And it worked.
What started as a social action project at Temple Sinai has grown into a citywide effort that has rescued and distributed nearly 7 million pounds of food.
Every day of the week, dozens of SHA volunteers crisscross the metro area, picking up food from school cafeterias, grocery stores, farmers markets, corporate dining rooms, churches, synagogues and sports venues.
Our volunteers come from diverse faith backgrounds and cultures. Some are retired. Some are students. Some participate through work. All are committed to driving out hunger.
The satisfaction of providing food to people in need isn’t limited to those who drive. It’s also in the hearts and minds of the 65 food donors that provide the bounty — from dairy products to meat, fresh produce, gourmet prepared meals, baked goods and more.
For some, the environmental impact of food waste is a driving force. Food rescued by Second Helpings Atlanta ends up on the plates of the hungry in our community, not in our landfills. The combination of sustainability and service is compelling to those who seek a better world.
That gets me back to Rosh Hashanah.
If you’re like me, the holidays are a time for reflection. While I may not always leave services with a Jan. 1-style list of resolutions, I do take time to think about how I can get closer to my goals. Some are challenging and illusive. Others, like reducing hunger and food waste, are easier to address.
If you’d like to become a Second Helpings Atlanta volunteer this year, we encourage you to sign up at www.secondhelpingsatlanta.org (see the red Volunteers button across the top on the right). We’ll find a convenient route that fits your life.
If you’re in a position to donate food — through your employer, a business you own or your simcha leftovers — we want to hear from you. If you have administrative or tech skills, we need your expertise.
Perhaps none of this works for you. Maybe you’re more interested in making a monetary donation to Second Helpings Atlanta (www.secondhelpingsatlanta.org/support) or taking small, personal steps to reduce hunger in the new year.
Possible steps include checking your pantry before you shop to avoid overbuying, using leftovers rather than tossing them, and encouraging your kids to take only what they can eat at a buffet or event. About 40 percent of all food is wasted in our country.
As you gather around the holiday table this year, I hope you will take a few minutes to think about the blessing of food. On behalf of the board, volunteers and food donors of Second Helpings Atlanta, I wish you a sweet, healthy and peaceful new year.
Sheri Labovitz is vice president of Second Helpings Atlanta.