Holiday season is busy season for Deep Well

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comNovember 20, 2012 

Suzanne Breckenridge, right, sorts through food donations with daughter Audrey Breckenridge, 9, and nephew Abraham Utecht, 6, on Tuesday at Deep Well on Hilton Head Island. Breckenridge and her sister, Allison Utecht, bring their families to Hilton Head every Thanksgiving to visit their father, Bradley Tufts. Since the death of their mother, Betty Tufts, they have volunteered at the charity in her memory. Betty Tufts was a dedicated Deep Well volunteer before she died in 2009.

SARAH WELLIVER

  • The Deep Well Project still needs volunteers to deliver Christmas dinners Dec. 19 to families in need. Details: 843-785-2849




The Deep Well Project is facing its busiest time of year.

For the Hilton Head Island charity's staff and volunteers, that means helping about 2,000 needy families celebrate the holidays.

The nonprofit organization says it has assisted 1,703 families so far this year with payments of rent or utility bills, or providing a week's worth of food.

That's on track to match the number of families -- 2,038 -- helped last year. Executive director Betsy Doughtie said the agency expects to assist at least 300 more families by the end of the year.

This is its busiest fundraising season, too. The charity, a United Way agency, draws about half of its $700,000 budget from its annual Christmas campaign, the Empty Well. The Island Packet publishes a list of all donations through the holidays. Those donations are used to provide families with toys, furniture, medication, home repairs and bill payments

"We are so fortunate here," Doughtie said, of donors' generosity. "We have a good reputation, and people know that when they donate to Deep Well, the money is well-spent."

Deep Well's clients struggle to make ends meet for a variety of reasons. Perhaps a car breaks down unexpectedly, or work hours are cut, which is common in the winter with fewer tourists.

"When you make minimum wage or a little better, there's never any money to save," Doughtie said.

This year, rent seems to be the most needed, which isn't unusual, Doughtie said.

Fewer requests for utility payments can be attributed to a milder summer and winter than in recent years, Doughtie said. In 2010 and 2011, requests for help with electric bills were up. Doughtie hopes the cold weather stays away, as often the families they help live in drafty older houses or mobile homes.

Families that receive assistance from Deep Well have to prove need, which the charity verifies with calls to employers or by other means. Because its aim is emergency assistance, the organization will help a family with rent or bills only once a year.

It's a bit more liberal with food, Doughtie said. Local families have faced difficulty getting signed up for food stamps since the Department of Social Services closed offices on Hilton Head and in Bluffton, so Deep Well sometimes goes over its limit of four food donations every six months, she said.

The organization also has helped 360 families -- including 230 that churches, families, businesses and neighborhoods have adopted -- have a Thanksgiving dinner this year. Volunteers and employees have been busy this week packaging turkeys and side dishes and delivering them to the families.

About 85 percent of the food Deep Well distributes is donated, Doughtie said, and more always comes in this time of year.

"People think of us in November and December," she said. "Our shelves were so empty just about a month ago."

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