Yesterday marked the 19th anniversary of the official opening of Second Helpings in 1998. However, three years of work had already transpired by the time Second Helpings opened its doors. It took three years for a spark of an idea to take life, gain support and traction, and finally be realized. Today, we celebrate all of the years of Second Helpings changing lives and the people who changed their own lives to ensure the organization’s viability and success.
One of those people was Jean Paison. Chef Paison is a self-taught chef, with years of experience in the pastry business and 9.5 years as the chef at the Illinois Street Food Emporium. For years, she and fellow chefs had realized there was a huge amount of food being wasted and no manual to safely handle that food and give it to thousands of hungry people. Friends with Chef Kristen Cordoza Kienker through their work with the American Culinary Federation, Paison knew that there had to be a way to rescue food and feed the hungry, while also training people to obtain jobs.
“There were organizations pre-Second Helpings that wanted to rescue food but didn’t know how. We decided that if we waited, we could wait for the government to slap regulations on it or we could create our own regulations that were then approved by local health officials. That’s what we did – we created a safe food handling packet.”
Before Second Helpings, Paison had also started a plan called “The Fishermen Plan,” which trained people out of then-Lighthouse Mission. “We cooked every day for all of the guys that came to the mission for food.” Thus, the idea of a training program was linked with food rescue and hunger relief.
Looking back, Paison views her involvement in the founding of Second Helpings as happenstance. Originally, she and her husband were planning on moving to New York and then Europe for her husband’s job. When Kienker came back from a conference excited about the idea of beginning Second Helpings, Paison began to realize that that is what she needed to do. “When she came to me and said that she was going to do this, I agreed to help her out.” Paison and her husband decided to move back to Indiana after six months in New York, and she and Kienker asked Chef Bob Koch to join them.
After pulling together an advisory council, the chefs conducted multiple feasibility studies over the next year. Once they discovered the strong support they would receive from the community, they decided to begin fundraising and search for a building that would suit their purposes. “We had raised $188,000 in eight months, which we knew was what it would take to get Second Helpings started. We knew that we needed enough funding to support us well past the first year.”
Finding a building to support the planned services provided by Second Helpings proved difficult. “Jim Mount, who was on our board, looked and looked for us until he found a space. He warned us that it was not that great but we thought ‘oh, we’ll be here forever.’” The former RCA plant had the equipment Second Helpings needed, even though for many it was missing something essential – heat in the bathrooms!
Regardless of the circumstances, after all of the feasibility studies, fundraising, the search for a building, and ensuring community support, Second Helpings proudly opened on April 29, 1998. Today, we celebrate that and the amount of work it took before and after that day to run Second Helpings. Quite a bit has changed – meals were once sent out by the hundreds every day, and not thousands. “They were balanced – soup, salad, three course meals. It’s very different from now but we were playing in a different ball field,” Paison explained. Many days, Paison wondered if the organization would survive.
Survive and thrive it has, partly due to Paison’s perseverance and the work she, Kienker, and Koch poured in, alongside many others. The Second Helpings of today retains the same three-part mission it had 19 years ago, but has adapted and changed to recognize and meet the continuous and growing need, which has surprised some. Paison said, “I never in my wildest dreams thought it would be doing what it’s doing today. I knew it would still be around, but I did not even consider that it would be this big.” She recognizes though, the incredibly community support that has propelled Second Helpings forward. “(Incredible and broad community support) was the only thing I was sure of. All we did was come up with the idea – the community took it and they own it. If you think about community, communing, communion… it’s all about food. We get it.”
Where does Paison see Second Helpings in the next 19 years? “As long as we follow the road and follow trends in the food industry and adjust to those as needed, I think Second Helpings
will be equally impactful as it is today.”
You can count the number of meals served, or pounds rescued and redirected, but a number cannot be placed on the impact of Paison, Kienker, Koch and many others who helped start Second Helpings 19 years ago. Thousands of lives have been changed for the better. What’s Second Helpings’ birthday wish? To continue transforming lives through the power of food.
Do you want to make sure Second Helpings continues to serve Central Indiana in the years ahead?
Written by Abby Rolland