Deep Well picks up pace through holiday season

rlurye@islandpacket.comNovember 26, 2013 

Come the holidays, many local families have begun to buckle under daily expenses.

That Thanksgiving and Christmas fall during the tourism offseason makes it even harder for many hourly workers to keep up with bills and stock pantries that never stay full for long. The holidays nearly become just one more expense local residents can't afford, said Betsy Doughtie, executive director of The Deep Well Project.

"There's just no question of having anything left over for a Thanksgiving meal, a Christmas meal or Christmas toys," Doughtie said.

That's where the Hilton Head Island charity steps in.

The nonprofit sees its busiest months at the end of the year, whether it's helping to pay someone's rent or putting a turkey dinner on a family's table.

In the past week, Deep Well distributed complete Thanksgiving meals to more than 135 families and referred about 210 others to churches and other organizations, which will cook and deliver their meals, according to Doughtie.

While need continues to be great throughout the region, Doughtie sees reason for optimism -- the number of clients is steadily declining, just a few years after the economic downturn sent families flocking to Deep Well in record numbers.

The nonprofit has assisted about 1,500 people so far this year with bills, rent, food and other needs, compared with 1,703 families during the same period last year, Doughtie said.

An improving economy is one reason. Weather is another. A mild summer spared those who live in older homes or poorly insulated trailers from hefty electric bills, Doughtie said.

"We had a couple of really rough years," Doughtie said. "Some people live in old, dilapidated houses where the heating goes right out the window."

To date this year, the organization has helped 203 families with their electricity, compared with a peak of 333 in 2010.

Other programs, however, have swelled with the changing needs of local families. More parents than ever are turning to Deep Well for assistance with buying children's clothing, primarily the uniforms mandated by the Beaufort County School District since 2009.

In the three years leading up to that policy change, Deep Well provided clothing to 391 children. So far in 2013, that number is at 767 children, a 22 percent increase from the full previous year.

Meeting that demand might not be possible without the money the Deep Well raises during its annual Christmas campaign, Empty Well. Each year, it accounts for about half of the organization's budget, which in 2013 is about $960,000 in cash and in-kind donations of food and furniture.

As those donations flood in, so do requests. Doughtie expects another 500 families to seek assistance of some kind from Deep Well before the year ends.

"If Christmas only happened in July, we'd be good," she said.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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