Hilton Head Island nonprofit dealing with unprecedented needs
The Deep Well Project has been helping islanders in need for 47 years, but now many of the nonprofit’s former donors are seeking assistance. As Lowcountry businesses remain shuttered and job losses mount due to COVID-19, Deep Well’s ability to help with food and rent is more important than ever, said executive director Sandy Gillis. In addition to the nonprofit’s regular clients, Hilton Head Island residents from all walks of life are submitting requests for help.
“The people we are dealing with are used to being self-sufficient. They are finding themselves in the have-nots,” she said. “It’s a paradigm shift for them.”
In the five weeks from March 1-April 8, 327 families – a total of 883 people - have received a food curbside from the Deep Well food pantry. Volunteers load the groceries into clients’ cars in the nonprofit’s parking lot off Capital Drive. Each family gets a week’s worth of groceries once a month, Gillis said. Luckily, donors— including full time and part time Lowcountry residents—have stepped in to fund the growing demand. Since March 1, Deep Well has received over 350 financial donations of all sizes. Many contributions have come from new donors.
During this same period, Lowcountry residents brought Deep Well more than 11,000 pounds of non-perishable food and other household items—including toilet paper. Community donations go on a quarantine shelf in the food pantry for three days before being distributed, Gillis said. Housing is a chief need as many islanders lost their jobs in March and May rent and mortgage payments now loom. Gillis said that 129 families – totalling 450 people - have had all or some of their rent or mortgage paid by Deep Well. The nonprofit mails checks straight to landlords after verifying the tenant’s employment and payment history, Gillis said.
“It cost over $97,000 to keep these people safe in their homes, while they’re out of work and government benefits are still weeks away,” a Deep Well press release said.
Despite being older and thus at risk for developing serious complications with COVID-19, some Deep Well volunteers keep showing up. “If a volunteer or volunteer’s spouse has underlying health issues, we have asked them to stay home, but they tell me they can’t just sit and not help,” Gillis said.
Other volunteers are helping with administrative tasks from home— including Mary-Stuart Alderman, who Gillis calls “The Thank You Letter-Writing Queen.”
“It’s important that all of our donors hear from us about how we’re using their donations,” she said.
It takes Deep Well’s staff of five—including Gillis—about two days to screen new clients’ applications and determine if they are eligible for help. Applicants must live on Hilton Head Island; mainland residents are referred to Bluffton Self Help. Following social distancing guidelines, Deep Well asks prospective clients to call first instead of coming to the office, as most needed information can be gathered by phone.
“While our office door is now locked for safety, we are not closing our doors to help,” Gillis said. “We are going to step in and help you with this bump in your life.”
For more information: 843-785-2849 or deepwellproject.org/donate