Neighbors in Need

People
Typography

BLUFFTON SELF HELP PROVIDES AID FOR MANY

“This is the most generous community I’ve ever worked in,” Kimberly Hall said as she finished loading donated groceries onto a shelf.

Hall, who is executive director of Bluffton Self Help, pointed to Holly Ashby, who was getting in her SUV to leave, as an example of local generosity. Ashby collects food donations from other residents in Sun City Hilton Head and drives them to Bluffton Self Help. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, she has brought in more than 2,000 pounds of canned goods and other non-perishables for the nonprofit’s food pantry.

Many other Lowcountry residents also have responded to the COVID-19 crisis—and its twin evil, unemployment—by donating food and money to Bluffton Self Help.

“The number of donations are up,” Hall said. “Amounts are not.”

The nonprofit based in Bluffton’s Sheridan Park shopping center provides food, clothing and emergency assistance to break the cycle of poverty. Bluffton Self Help was founded more than 33 years ago by the late Mrs. Ida Martin, who had a vision of neighbors helping neighbors with dignity, compassion and care. This mission hasn’t changed with the emergence of COVID-19, but needs and the nonprofit’s responses to them have shifted. 

To protect the health of her volunteers, on March 16 Hall converted the food pantry to a drive-thru and she temporarily trimmed her army of 220 —many of them retired— to just six younger folks who wanted to keep helping. Every Thursday morning, volunteers Robin Pickens, Deb Linman, Vincent Autouri, Gary Peragallo, John Pickens and Ann Edwards pack grocery bags and carry them to a table. In the first five weeks, the number of families coming for food rose from 200 to 320; Hall said the average family size is four. Each family can receive food once a week. 

Those requesting help for the first time receive temporary client cards as cars start lining up in the parking lot. When food distribution starts at 10 a.m., the cars inch toward the table, drivers roll down their windows, grab a bag and go. In the bags this time were yogurt, eggs, cereal, produce and canned goods. Bluffton Self Help often buys meat and produce at Sam’s Club to supplement what it receives from Lowcountry Food Bank and community food drives. 

blufftonselfhelp2To minimize contact, BSH only accepts individual food donations Mondays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and encourages local neighborhoods to hold food drives. Items collected sit on quarantine shelves at BSH for three days before being redistributed. The nonprofit’s business and education center and clothing closet are open by appointment only, but Hall and her team will help with emergency requests as they can. 

To serve the growing number of people needing emergency financial assistance due to coronavirus, Bluffton Self Help set up COVID-19 Family Relief Fund. 

The nonprofit based in Bluffton’s Sheridan Park shopping center provides food, clothing and emergency assistance to break the cycle of poverty. 

“This time of year we typically process up to 20 applications for rent, mortgage or utility assistance every week. This has jumped to more than 50 each week and continues to grow,” Hall said. 

The nonprofit is also managing the SERG Relief Fund and Palmetto Bluff Family Relief Fund, which is supported by residents of Palmetto Bluff to help Palmetto Bluff employees who have been laid off or are facing financial hardship. Hall noted that many people seeking help are facing unemployment and financial hardship for the first time. 

The organization’s front door is locked now but staff members Allison Crouch, Barbara Bowers, Candyce Childress, Julia Violi and Jean LeBlanc are there every week day, answering the phones and responding to emails from people seeking help. They’re also busy applying for grants, but these will never replace the need for local donors. 

“We are funded by locals. As the weeks go on, the hardship on individuals and families will intensify,” Hall said. “Now is the time for all of us to come together to support those in need.” 

For more information about Bluffton Self Help, call 843-757-8000 or visit www.blufftonselfhelp.org

For information about organizing a neighborhood food drive, email julia@blufftonselfhelp.org.