Intriguing people: Ida Martin

ida-martinMrs. Ida Martin, the founder of Bluffton Self Help Inc., in Bluffton was born in the rural town of Walterboro, in the mid 1920s. Her destiny: to grow up to become a well-recognized icon in the Lowcountry. She did it one task at a time and with the spit and fire of a woman on a mission. Her mission: to assist people lacking basic needs such as food, clothing and emergency financial assistance.

Martin, known by the locals as that woman who lives in the big house on Bruin Street, opened her heart and her home to the people living in her community. For the past 27 plus years, she has moved from sharing the food out of her own refrigerator to the current 6,500-square-foot building located at 39 Sheridan Park Circle in Sheridan Park. The impact she has had on people’s lives can only be measured by the stories they tell about her.

Jerry Holmes, a local resident and a regular figure at Bluffton Self Help, owes his life to  Martin. After a few days of absence, the volunteers and staff became concerned about his whereabouts. Martin was called and the search began. She rallied her local residents to seek and find, and they did. Holmes was near death in an abandoned home just feet from a sidewalk on the corner of Bruin and Highway 46. He  had been lying there for more than three days with no food, water or way to call out for help. He was rushed to the hospital. Martin, true to her nature, went one step further. She made sure Holmes had a real home to go to after his hospital stay. Today, he is living with his brother and volunteers almost daily at Bluffton Self Help.

Martin’s joy of sharing and caring started when she was very young. She would share the food in her home with the young children in the neighborhood who were hungry. Her father, Haskell Magwood, who adopted her and 10 siblings, worked for the railroad and in those days it was a great job. “My dad would buy food by the cases and he actually had a pantry in our home.”

Martin at that time was living across from Beechwood School in Savannah in a grand house, as she describes it. She went off to the Shanklin Boarding School in Beaufort instead. It was there she met her life partner, Jacob Martin.

Her first experience with those less fortunate in her neighborhood was with one family who lived directly across from McCracken High School. The mother was stranded with five beautiful red-haired children. “Someone told me about them and I called The Deep Well Project founder on Hilton Head, Charlotte Heinricks, who went with me to purchase food for the family. As we were leaving, after filling up the refrigerator, one of the little girls asked, so shyly, if we had any toilet paper. I thought she was going to ask for candy.”

Her inspiration to start an agency to help the poor was inspired by Heinricks.

When asked how the agency selected its name, she said the board wanted to inspire people to help themselves. “When you come in to ask for help,” Martin said, “we want you to show that you are going to help yourself.”

Martin has been recognized locally, at the state level and nationally, for starting Bluffton Self Help. In 1990, she was recognized at the state level, being named Volunteer of the Year in South Carolina. On the federal level, in 2011 she received the coveted Presidential Citizens Medal and in the Town of Bluffton in 2012, she was honored with a spot on the “Wall of Honor.” In addition, April 4 has been Ida Martin Day in the Town of Bluffton since 2011.

“Mrs. Ida Martin is a good salesman,” said Lisa Sulka, mayor of Bluffton. “When she calls, I know she wants something and I’m more than glad to help her, because she asks from the heart and you can’t tell her no.”

Sharon Brown, of Bluffton, couldn’t say enough about Martin. “I love Ida Martin.  Hundreds of families in Bluffton and the surrounding area have been touched by her. “

“I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without the support of my family and the community,” said Martin.  Her personal life has been as enriching as her charity life. The Martins have been married for over 60 years and have three children; her daughter Constance, of Ridgeland, and two sons Richard, of St Louis, Mo., and Crawford, also a Bluffton resident.

Most people would have rested on their laurels, but most people are not like Ida Martin. Last year she started a soup kitchen and now over 50 people enjoy a hot meal at the Campbell Chapel AME Church in Old Town Bluffton every Wednesday.

The Lowcountry has truly been touched by an angel.