One of the biggest perks of choosing a career with Central Restaurant Products is the opportunity to volunteer and give back to the community. As Kerrie Lafky, Central’s Director of Employee Experience, puts it: “It encourages employees to set aside time to do these things. Otherwise, it might just be something they’d like to do but never get around to. It feels good to volunteer, and it becomes more of a priority when you’re given time to do it.”
Central’s President, Keith Kidwell, adds:
“Sometimes it’s easy to judge what someone cares about by where they spend their time. Volunteering shows that it’s not always about being in the office, but that you’re also passionate about improving other aspects.”
And what better way than to partner up to support a customer making a major impact in the community.
Who is Second Helpings?
Second Helpings is a non-profit hunger-relief organization in Indianapolis with the mission of transforming lives through the power of food. They are practically completely volunteer-driven with more than 800 active volunteers, many of which volunteer three days a week. By stark contrast, they only have 25 full-time paid employees.
“Our volunteers do everything from running the front desk to data entry and preparing and delivering meals,” explains Nora Spitznogle, Senior Director of Programs at Second Helpings.
Founded in 1998, Second Helpings is fiercely devoted to combatting hunger and driving a positive force throughout their community. Their mission encompasses three core programs: Hunger Relief, Food Rescue, and Culinary Job Training.
Spitznogle’s background is in restaurant management, earning a degree in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management from Purdue University. Before joining Second Helpings, she worked in casual dining for 25 years. She started at Second Helpings in 2005 as the Manager of Volunteer Services, working her way to Senior Director of Programs. She was kind enough to take the time to give us the scoop on all the good surging out of Second Helpings.
“Last year we were able to rescue two-and-a-half million pounds of food, all that would otherwise be thrown away,” says Spitznogle. Second Helpings is driven by cash and food donations. They partner with local wholesalers, restaurants, and the community to collect food that might be close to expiration, but still perfectly safe.
“Americans throw away an enormous amount of food – an average of one pound of food each day for every man, woman, and child in the country. That’s around 30% of our available food supply going directly into the trash… We take the resources that nobody wanted and use them to fulfill the most fundamental need that people can’t live without – the need to be nourished with healthy food.”
“Our largest donors are the wholesalers where maybe the box is damaged but the product is still good, or a restaurant goes out of business but they still have inventory. We also work with grocery stores to take in their products that are approaching expiration. Where others grab the milk from the back of the case, we’re grabbing from the front. If we can’t use it, then we’ll get it to a food pantry or to someone who can.”
Now that they’ve saved the food from getting pitched, where does it go?
1 in 6 Indianapolis residents don’t know where their next meal will come from, and these numbers are even higher among children and seniors. When people are hungry, they struggle to learn, work, and thrive. Second Helpings partners with more than 90 local social service agencies to increase their impact in the community, taking the food that comes in, preparing and delivering more than 4,000 meals daily. Yes, you read that right. They prepare more than 4,000 meals each day.
The volunteers take the products that get delivered, create the recipes, prepare the meals, pan them, and deliver out to these agencies.
“The food goes to emergency shelters, transitional housing, after-school programs like stand-alone Boys and Girls Clubs, Indianapolis parks, daycares, church meal industries, senior programs, and more,” lists Spitznogle. “After school, the Boys and Girls clubs around Indianapolis sometimes host kids until nine at night, which is awesome because it gives them a safe place where they can do homework and play. At first, they were only able to provide a snack, but we were able to come in with hot food for each child. Some places, like Wheeler Mission, are getting hundreds of meals from us a day.”
The community impact doesn’t stop at food waste prevention and hunger relief. Second Helpings also impacts on the personal level, empowering others to transform their lives through education. They offer a free 7-week culinary job training program for unemployed or underemployed Central Indiana adults, specifically designed to secure employment upon graduation. What’s more, it also grants those who complete the course five credit hours towards a culinary degree from Ivy Tech Community College.
Spitznogle enthusiastically describes this program, its students, and its power to change lives:
“There’s not an average student. Last year, the average age was 36, but we also had 18-year-olds and people in their 60s. Almost all were below the poverty level, and 25% were living in supportive housing. About half had some kind of a criminal background. The foodservice industry is an industry of second chances and a great opportunity for people to jump in because if they show up and work hard, they can advance quickly.
“The average starting wage for our students is 11.61 an hour, which is pretty exciting because the living wage in Indianapolis is 11.35. We encourage them to get jobs in the hospitals and health care if they can because that tends to be more shift work, so you know what your hours are going to be. Plus, they offer benefits. A lot of our students can’t even think of what a benefit might be, so when we talk about things like vacation days or still getting paid when you’re sick, it’s really exciting for them.”
The first two weeks of the course cover basic job-readiness skills, including nutrition, food safety, CPR, and first aid. They even take a field trip to learn about financial literacy. “We do that purposefully,” says Spitznogle. “If they only have two weeks to give to us, we’re still sending them out with a lot of skills and certificates.”
The next five weeks are spent in their test kitchen gaining hands-on experience with commercial equipment and putting their newly gleaned knowledge to the test. Each day they prepare a hotel-style buffet for the staff and volunteers, learning timing, presentation, food safety, and what they can expect to see in the restaurant world.
As the class comes to a close, one of their final exercises is constructing a mock-restaurant where they practice line-cooking and cook-to-order. They also take a field trip to visit Ivy Tech to meet with a graduate who now teaches there and see first-hand what to expect.
“Sometimes, the hardest part of getting a non-traditional student through the door is just getting out of your car and walking in. Every year we have a couple of students who go straight to Ivy Tech, but many join the workforce and decide to go part-time a year or two down the line.”
The Second Helpings Volunteer Experience
“We totally couldn’t do it without the volunteer help. While we’re unique and get prepared foods, we’re also a scratch kitchen with volunteers doing all the prep work and cooking. Our volunteers create the meals, coming up with recipes depending on whatever food gets donated. It often feels like we’re living an episode of Iron Chef!”
Volunteers are an essential function of Second Helpings. They use the food that’s donated to produce more than one million meals a year! Volunteers deliver these meals to 90 agencies around Indianapolis at no cost, saving them more than 5.5 million dollars.
Spitznogle cherishes the volunteers, citing the opportunity to work with them as one of the highlights of her day. It’s social and fun, and her dad even volunteers every Wednesday!
As of 2019, Second Helpings’ 800+ volunteers have helped to rescue more than 33 million pounds of food, prepared and delivered 13 million meals, and graduated 850 adults from their culinary job training program.
Central at Second Helpings
Central is proud to partner up with such an incredible organization. Second Helpings has been a customer for years, acquiring the necessary equipment to handle such a large volume, including dock refrigeration, tilt skillets, combination ovens, food prep supplies, and more.
“We recently purchased a new dock freezer that helps us keep more product on hand, and we do a lot of cooking in tilt skillets. Our 35-gallon skillet translates to about 600 meals. Our combi steam ovens have completely changed what we’ve done because they allow us to cook without any kind of oil to keep the nutrition in there, and things cook faster.”
And when given the opportunity to volunteer, Central pounced. A group of eight employees, including Central’s President and many from the marketing and merchandising team spent a day onsite to help prepare meals. All returned to the office impressed and inspired.
“I had no idea just how large of an operation this was,” Andrew Carroll, Central’s Director of Content, recounts. “Doing what they do on the scale that they do it was so impressive to me. Instead of focusing on finding a way to serve the food, they focus on providing food to support existing organizations that already share in their mission. In doing so, their impact is multitudes greater than it would be on their own.”
Chase joined Central Restaurant Products in February 2016 as a Content Specialist, bringing to the role years of various foodservice experience, including front-of-house service (slingin’ chicken wings and libations with a smile on his face) and back-of-house food prep using heavy-duty commercial cooking equipment to prepare for peak dining hours at his university’s dining hall.
He puts this experience to use writing for Central’s Resource Center, website, and print catalog. ServSafe certified, he enjoys educating on food safety in the commercial setting, researching new dining room and tabletop trends, and sharing innovative solutions to enhance operational efficiencies. He also enjoys (in no specific order) long hikes with his dog, bingeing 90s sitcoms, red wine, and live music.