Recession leads more white-collar workers to seek help at local charities

January 27, 2009 

  • The Deep Well Project needs blankets and winter jackets. To donate, call 843-785-2849. Bluffton Self Help needs gently used clothing. To donate, call 843-757-8000

In 2008, local charities saw the faces of the needy change.

Residents who normally wouldn't need help suddenly found themselves with fewer hours at work or no job at all.

The recession brought construction workers, Realtors and young professionals to the doors of the Deep Well Project on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton Self Help in old town Bluffton.

As a result, Deep Well provided more than 62,000 meals last year, compared to 50,000 the year before. It also helped more than 600 families pay rent and utility bills -- about 100 more than in 2007.

Bluffton Self Help provided similar financial support to 656 families, which was 240 more than in 2007, said executive director Jenny Haney.

"We've also had to turn people flat down because there are some people in Bluffton that just choose not to work or choose to live" in government-assisted housing, Haney said.

Haney said she sometimes must decide whether to give rent money either to singles living in government-assisted homes, or to couples who pay higher rent but one of them has lost a job due to the recession.

"I have to base it on the need and if children are involved," she said. "If someone single comes in, I will probably turn him down because there are jobs out there."

With economic uncertainty nationwide, local charities are preparing for another difficult year.

"We are expecting the need to be even greater," said Betsy Doughtie, Deep Well executive director. "... It's going to take us a long time in this country to work our way out of this."

Doughtie said the donations Deep Well received over the holidays will finance the charity for the next six months and ensure it continues to provide financial support and food despite the increased need.

Aside from putting food on the dinner table and helping residents pay rent or utility bills, the charity also provides home repairs through its "Livable Housing Program" and helps residents without health insurance buy prescription medicine.

Many uninsured residents go to the island's free clinic, Volunteers in Medicine. Sometimes they might need prescription drugs the clinic doesn't have in stock. Deep Well helps pay for those.

While local charities are seeing a greater need, VIM has not seen more patients, because it has to reduced its hours since July. A $150,000 budget shortfall forced the clinic to cut its operating hours to control expenses.

The clinic has had to turn patients away, said clinic spokeswoman Margie Maxwell.

"The need is huge," Maxwell said. "And we are seeing a whole new group of young professionals who are losing their jobs or have lost their jobs -- young white-collar workers -- and the health insurance goes with them."

The clinic hopes to soon return to normal operating hours, Maxwell said. It depends on whether the clinic receives a $75,000 grant it applied for from the Town of Hilton Head Island. Maxwell expects to hear if the clinic will receive the grant in February.

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