Excitement runs high on game day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the Atlanta Falcons run, pass and score. The thrills aren’t reserved for the field, however. Tucked away under the stadium is the loading dock where, more than 20 times this season, Second Helpings Atlanta (SHA) Volunteers will fill their cars with rescued food—steak, shrimp, chicken, fresh vegetables, salads and hand-crafted desserts. The bounty is courtesy of Levy Restaurants at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which prepares gourmet food served in the luxury suites where fans cheer on the Falcons, Atlanta United and other teams.
Nearly a year before the stadium opened, Second Helpings Atlanta Vice President Sheri Labovitz reached out to General Manager Scott Jenkins about the possibility of rescuing surplus food and delivering it to social service agencies, especially several on Atlanta’s West Side, home to the new stadium. Jenkins and others were enthusiastic about the idea and plans were set in motion.
According to Susan Desmond, who leads SHA Community Outreach and Development, an average pickup might be 2,000 pounds or more, requiring 4-6 Volunteers. Levy Restaurants staff members load the food into disposable aluminum pans, then speed wrap and refrigerate them. A recent pickup yielded dozens of pans of brisket, salmon, fresh asparagus spears, prime rib, sausages, prepared sandwiches, cole slaw and fruit.
“The partnership with Mercedes-Benz and Levy Restaurants has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to serve the West Side, which has been a goal of ours for some time,” says Desmond. New Partner Agencies added to receive the stadium donations include Veterans Empowerment Organization, Urban Recipe, Loaves and Fishes, Salvation Army and True Worship Christian Fellowship.
For Clifton Dawkins, pastor of True Worship Christian Fellowship on Joseph E. Boone Blvd., “This food means everything.” Dawkins, who cooks and serves for 100 or more every Saturday, Sunday and Monday, explains that the neighborhood is a food desert where children rarely get fresh vegetables, and nutritious food is in short supply. Fresh produce is a rare treat for kids more used to eating salty snacks than apples and broccoli.
Says Dawkins, “I really appreciate Second Helpings Atlanta for allowing me to participate. We are a small ministry with limited resources and most of my membership is homeless or the working poor—very much below the poverty line.” The food contributes to his effort, now 10 years in the making, bringing hope to this community.
For Matt Cooper, Executive Chef at the stadium, partnering with SHA gives Levy Restaurants and his staff a way to give back. Every morning following an event, kitchen employees spend several hours packaging the leftover food and preparing it for pickup. Overproduction is common at large venues where operators can’t risk running out. Being able to share this surplus, rather than see it go in the trash, is a real plus, he says.
The West Side expansion is an exciting development in the life of the fast-growing nonprofit organization. So far this year, SHA has rescued more than a million pounds, thanks to donors like Mercedes-Benz Stadium, corporate kitchens, schools, grocery stores, retailers and faith-based organizations.
Learn how you can join the effort to bring fresh, nutritious food to communities in need by driving or donating. Contact SHA Executive Director Joe Labriola at email@example.com for more information.