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Holden Beach vacationers, homeowners collect 100,000 pounds of food

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By Sarah Sue Ingram, Beacon Correspondent

People whip their cars into the Holden Beach Chapel parking lot and pop out of the front-seat doors like sideways jacks-in-the-box.

Then they fling open the door of the back seat, trunk or hatchback and snatch up bags of groceries. Volunteers say “thank you” as they receive the bags and immediately put them on a set of scales.

The contributors are back in their cars in less than three minutes and headed home, wherever home may be. People who donated food Saturday, July 27 came from as far away as Utah and Nevada.

This weekly transfer of food on Holden Beach is called A Second Helping. Vacationers (and some homeowners) bring food they didn’t eat to the drop-off site under an umbrella in the corner of the chapel parking lot near the bridge.

“You don’t want to see the food go to waste, and if you can help other people and it’s this easy, why not?” said Chris Conard from Dayton, Ohio.

“We used to go to the Outer Banks, and then my wife discovered Holden Beach. This is the greatest vacation spot I’ve ever been to.”

Just before his wife and he started their 11-hour drive home, they dropped off a 10-pound bag of food that included meat, orange juice, canned goods and potato chips.

Rhonda Montgomery from Casey, Ill., stopped next, handing over bags as she said, “We love helping the ones who are hungry.”

These contributors have kept a lot of people in Brunswick County from going hungry. Two Saturdays ago, A Second Helping topped the 100,000-pound mark in food donations. Holden Beach homeowner Bill Spier started the program in July 2005.

“I heard about a program in Wrightsville Beach and modeled it after that,” Spier said. “I used to do this by myself, and then it got too big.”

Saturday morning he had help from volunteers John Allen, John Heidtke and Bill Hadesty.

“We usually get 2,000 pounds (of donations on summer Saturdays),” Hadesty said.

Nonperishable items go to the Brunswick Islands Baptist Church Food Pantry and perishable items go to Sharon United Methodist Church to disperse, Spier said.

The scales to weigh the food were set up on the end of a big table where nonperishable donations were stacked in boxes. On the ground on the other side of the table were five coolers with ice to store the perishable donations such as meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables.

In the past, A Second Helping volunteers placed those coolers out front under the umbrella. But they learned that wasn’t a good idea.

“People used to think we were selling shrimp,” Heidtke said with a laugh.

Spier said, “I don’t think we’ve had anybody ask about shrimp this year, so our marketing skills have improved.”

And the coolers are hidden from sight.

Sheila Wohlfrom and her dad, Arthur, from Columbus, Ohio, stopped at A Second Helping for the fourth straight summer.

“We can’t take the food back, and we want to help out when there are so many people in need,” she said. “My dad always gives cash, too.”

Besides several hundred pounds of food, Spier had collected $55 in cash donations by 9:30 Saturday morning.

“Last week two different people gave me $100 each,” he said.

A Second Helping takes donations from 7 a.m. until noon on “Changeover Saturday,” the Saturdays from mid-June through Labor Day weekend when a slew of vacationers leave before another big batch checks in to their rental beach houses.

“We think it’s wonderful you do this,” Mitzi Witchger from Noblesville, Ind., told volunteers collecting the food. “This food is perishable, and we know other people can use this.”

Her husband, Tom, agreed with their motivation, saying, “Pass it on.”

They had 10 family members vacationing at Holden Beach including some from Minnesota, Germany and China. The Witchgers faced a 14-hour trek home.

After handing volunteers six bags of groceries, Donna Dravenstott from Wooster, Ohio, slid out a big cooler filled to the brim with food. The food just in the cooler weighed 39 pounds.

Bread sticks, carrots, Cool Whip, a box of scalloped potatoes and cereal were among the offerings.

“We had 15 people in our group,” Dravenstott said. “It’s nice to give back.”

Other A Second Helping volunteers include Larry Blums, Mike Richards, Jack Lohman, Bobby Brown, Laney Funderburk, James Carter, Ron Skubic and Holden Beach Commissioner Don Glander.

Still another volunteer, who has been accepting donations with Spier “since Day One,” is Don Downs from Asheville. Nine years later he’s still helping.

“It’s just a blessing to me knowing that somebody’s going to be fed,” Downs said.

“Years ago we’d come to the beach, get ready to go home and throw all that food away. When I heard we just reached 100,000 pounds, I was blown away. I contribute everything to Bill. What a wonderful thing he has done.

“The caring people who stop and give us donations — they thank us. That’s what gets me.”

The family that had the farthest to get home was the Nordlings from Las Vegas.

“We brought it all,” Chris Nordling said with a grin as he delivered donations from his family members.

It was the end of their first visit to Holden Beach.

“Loved it,” Nordling said.

Why?

“The simpleness.”

They were getting ready to catch a flight in Wilmington and expected to arrive home in Vegas at 9:30 Saturday night.

Allen, a volunteer, said the contributors make all the difference.

“They can take it home but they offer it to us instead,” he said. “They give without ever knowing who it goes to or how much. It’s unconditional giving.”