Imagine your car suddenly breaks down and you’ve got to spend $800 on repairs so you can get back on the road. Or you’re sidelined by a medical emergency, such as cancer or a heart attack, and you can’t work for months.
“People are surprised when they open their eyes. They’re surprised that there’s poverty on Hilton Head.”
Deep Well Project staff members are (from left) Betsy Doughtie, Rita Jones, Chris Wilcox and Sherry Pritchard.
For many Hilton Head Island residents, an unexpected emergency could ruin them financially, leaving them unable to make rent payments, pay their bills or put food on the table.
That’s where Betsy Doughtie and The Deep Well Project come in.
Deep Well, a nonprofit organization that got its start on Hilton Head in 1973, offers Lowcountry residents a “hand up, not a hand out,” as Doughtie, the organization’s executive director, likes to say.
“Your life is going along just fine and then there’s a glitch that prevents you from paying a bill. Like that car repair, or an illness,” Doughtie said. “We are there for emergency assistance.”
And there are more people in our area who need assistance than many people might think, Doughtie said.
“People need to get off Highway 278 and drive around a little bit,” she said. “People are surprised when they open their eyes. They’re surprised that there’s poverty on Hilton Head. But think about all the people who work in the hotels, who clean the rooms and bus tables and are prep cooks in the kitchens. Those are the people who aren’t paid a large amount of money, and most of them live hand to mouth. All it takes is not a great tragedy, but those little daily disasters when there’s not enough money.”
Deep Well helps people cope with those disasters, such as by making a rent payment or covering a utility bill. The group also provides food, diapers and school supplies and uniforms for children. And while there are many area organizations that help Lowcountry residents in need, Deep Well is one of only a few that offers assistance when Hilton Head Islanders find their homes in need of major repairs.
“Some agencies, the government, for example, won’t work on mobile homes,” Doughtie said. “Well, that’s primarily what our guys work on.”
Program coordinator Rita Jones scavenges supplies and construction materials from teardown sites, a truck collects furniture donations from around the Lowcountry and Deep Well participates in a Home Depot program that supplies it with leftover items from the store. The warehouse at Deep Well’s Beach City Road office is filled with doors, cabinets, furniture and construction supplies used to help repair homes and, in some cases, modify them to accommodate people in wheelchairs or with other special needs.
“Because Rita goes to teardowns and gets all this free material, and we get so much from Home Depot, with the free volunteer labor she does an amazing amount of work for very little money,” Doughtie said.
The home repair team is just one part of Deep Well’s army of volunteers. The organization is run by a small staff and a volunteer board of directors, and the rest of its workforce comes from volunteers who help sort donations and supplies, screen applicants and follow up on requests for aid. And the nonprofit does it all without accepting government funds. Instead, it relies on donations from the community, including grants from United Way and area organizations such as The Bargain Box, the Heritage Classic Foundation, the Long Cove Club Community Endowment Fund and the Berkeley Hall Charitable Fund.
“It’s really individuals who make Deep Well work,” Doughtie said.
This time of year, Deep Well’s volunteers are busy organizing the Santa Shop, a storage room that every holiday season is converted to a toy store. Deep Well’s clients can pick out toys so their children have gifts to open on Christmas morning.
“The holidays can’t come at a worse time for people,” Doughtie said. “If you can’t afford to pay your rent, how can you afford a Thanksgiving meal? If you can’t afford to pay your electric bill, how can you afford to buy toys for the kids at Christmas?”
As part of Deep Well’s efforts to make the holidays merry and bright for everyone, another group of volunteers is at work in the organization’s well-stocked pantry, packing up Christmas dinners.
“Our biggest need this time of year is turkeys,” Doughtie said with a laugh. The last three or four years, the requests for Christmas dinners have just been huge. For years and years and years, we’d do maybe 100 to 150 dinners, but now it’s at least 250. That’s a lot of turkeys.”
Deep Well, a nonprofit organization that got its start on Hilton Head in 1973, offers Lowcountry residents a hand up, not a hand out.
If you would like to donate to The Deep Well Project or if you’d like to become a volunteer, please call 843-785-2849 or go to www.deepwellproject.org.