Demand for Bluffton Self Help services grows

cconley@islandpacket.comNovember 21, 2012 

In this November file photo, Bluffton Self Help employee Lori Bonzagni hands the makings of a Thanksgiving dinner to a recipient.

JAY KARR, STAFF PHOTO

  • So far this year, Bluffton Self Help has:

  • Provided $396,357 worth of food

    • Supplied diapers to 130 children
  • Distributed 42 percent more food than 2011

  • Processed 606 applications for financial assistance

When Bluffton Self Help moved from Old Town to Sheridan Park last year, some of the volunteers worried their clients would have difficulty finding the new location.

They need not have been concerned.

More people than ever have turned to the agency for food, clothing, emergency financial help and other support, board president Peter Bromley said.

With six weeks left in 2012, "the numbers are already at an all-time high for us," he said Tuesday, noting that the nonprofit expected to serve 28,000 people this year.

"Six years ago, we were serving 10,000 to 12,000 people. Last year was our biggest year, and we are already running 25 percent ahead."

For the second year in a row, the agency has seen a sharp increase in demand for food. Through October, food demand has increased 40 percent over 2011, a year when demand was up 29 percent, executive director Lili Coleman said.

"There are people who have never needed help prior to this," Coleman said. "Employers are cutting back on their staffs. We are also a tourism area, so around September and October, the tourism industry is slowing down, and that's when we see people" seek assistance.

The agency has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Lowcountry Food Bank this year to keep pace with demand. It also is working with The Benefit Bank to direct struggling families to available federal and state services. And it is spending donations to buy additional food.

One bright spot through October, Coleman said, is that fewer people are seeking financial assistance. Through October, the agency has processed 606 applications for assistance compared to 696 all of last year.

Still, demand for all types of assistance tends to increase during the holidays.

Colder weather brings more requests for blankets, bathrobes and warm clothing, as well as people seeking help paying utility bills. To qualify, the agency requires clients to prove their residency and demonstrate they're working or looking for a job.

The organization also is working with United Way of the Lowcountry and other groups to distribute Christmas gifts to thousands of children in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties, Coleman said. Last year's toy drive served about 1,600 children.

This time of year, donations of all kinds are accepted. In 2011, the agency's year-end giving campaign raised $60,000, about one-sixth of its total budget.

Without this giving, Bromley said, Bluffton Self Help might need to reduce its services.

"Quite honestly, if we didn't have that, we would have to say no to a lot of people when they come in," he said. "Without that money, we couldn't be serving the clients we have."

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