HOLDEN BEACH — Many a beach visitor has been perplexed by the end-of-vacation question: What to do with all the leftover food?
For many, the garbage can is the answer, but that solution disturbed one beach resident so much 10 years ago that he decided to offer an alternative.
“I’m of the generation where it was just a sin to waste food,” said Bill Spier, 81, a Holden Beach resident.
So Spier parked himself, his 1990 Nissan pickup and a food-donation sign where departing vacationers couldn’t miss him in the parking lot of Holden Beach Chapel, less than a block from the Inland Waterway bridge.
Now, he and friends hold forth each Saturday through Labor Day weekend, accepting milk, eggs, crackers, bread – all the perishables and nonperishables that nobody wants to haul back to Memphis, or Raleigh or wherever.
“Bring everything,” Spier said. “We can put it to good use somewhere or other.”
Over the past decade, that’s added up to more than 140,000 pounds of food. Perishables go to Sharon United Methodist Church on the mainland, where they’re picked up by recipients or delivered to those house-bound.
“They will be gone by this afternoon,” predicted Spier one recent Saturday morning.
Nonperishables go to the food pantry at Brunswick Island Baptist Church on the mainland. Deliveries to the churches are made by Don Downs, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee from Supply.
Downs has worked with Spier from the beginning, when, he said, “I really didn’t recognize the need.”
But now that he’s seen “people elderly, people that have lost their jobs,” he said, “it’s been more of a blessing for me” (than for them).
News of Holden Beach’s A Second Helping, spread up the coast to Emerald Isle and Topsail Beach and Surf City, where residents began their own versions last summer, collecting more than 6,000 pounds of food.
A Second Helping-Emerald Isle, formed by George B. Gardner and other volunteers, collects Saturdays through Sept. 5 at four locations for the food pantry of White Oak Ecumenical Outreach Ministries in Swansboro.
One site is beside N.C. 58, where “People would just come by and join us,” he said. “It turned into a real community effort.”
A couple of early-morning locations are in coffee shops because, Gardner said, “A lot of people stop by and get coffee when they leave the island.”
At Topsail Beach and Surf City, the “Friends Feeding Friends” collection is sponsored by Emma Anderson Memorial Chapel.
Volunteers in bright yellow T-shirts spend Saturday mornings through Sept. 5 near the bridge to the mainland, collecting for the food pantry of Faith Harbor United Methodist Church in Surf City.
Though the beach economy may seem to be booming, said co-coordinator Bryant Mende, “There are plenty of people down here who have missed the boat.”
Besides, he said, he remembers childhood beach vacations. “Everybody would fight over NOT taking the food home – ‘I don’t want this loaf of bread.’ ”
Vacationers leaving Holden Beach that recent Saturday seemed universally thankful for Second Helping.
“I know there’s such a need, often invisible,” said Diane Wykcoff, on her way home to Nashville. As a former school social worker, she referred people to food pantries.
Told that there surely were other ways they could be spending Saturdays at the beach, Spier and friends showed no regrets.
“This is something that’s important,” retired accountant Bill Hadesty said.
“I could be baby-sitting right now,” joked Larry Blume, a retired police officer. “I’d rather be here.”
And, said Spier, “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
This story first appeared in Carolina Country magazine