Bluffton Self Help delivers on increased need through holidays

rlurye@islandpacket.comNovember 27, 2013 

Bob Hodges, a volunteer with Bluffton Self Help, helps Eva Kearnes of Bluffton load a turkey and other food for Thanksgiving into her car on Friday afternoon during their annual turkey distribution at Bluffton Self Help in Bluffton.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

A grocery cart in front of Bluffton Self Help's garage cradled half a dozen frozen turkeys Friday, awaiting the last few families to receive Thanksgiving dinners before the weekend.

Inside, the nonprofit organization's shelves were stacked high with boxed cornbread, mashed potatoes, canned yams and the rest of the ingredients that made their way to 182 families this year. Another 311 families were adopted by members of the community. But on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Bluffton Self Help's garage stands relatively empty.

That won't be the case for long, executive director Lili Coleman said.

Come Monday, the airy space will become Santa's toy shop, and the main storefront will once again see a revolving door of Bluffton families in need of clothing, financial assistance and, especially, food.

Bluffton Self Help usually distributes groceries to about 130 people four days a week. After many residents' food-stamp benefits were reduced this month, the organization began serving as many as 150 people a day, Coleman said.

"Some of them have even had (food stamps) go down $30, $40 a month," Coleman said. "To most of us, that doesn't seem like a lot of money, but it shows by the number of people who come to us, it sure is."

Through October, the Sheridan Park Circle location had 23,710 visits for food, up nearly 50 percent from the same period in 2012, she said. That amounts to about $150,000 worth of additional food.

Without donations, the organization could not feed those extra mouths, president Tray Hunter said.

"In past years, the community has answered the call and provided food, toys and funds to help us help others," he said.

Coleman said she has seen some encouraging signs. Though requests for basic needs continue to climb, applications for financial assistance have dropped slightly. Bluffton Self Help accepted 601 applications through October, down from 608 last year, according to Coleman.

"That's a good sign, because it means they're able to pay their bills," she said.

Coleman expects the community's needs to rise through the end of the year, and Bluffton Self Help will be ready. In 2012, the year-end giving campaign raised more than $90,000, up dramatically from $60,000 in 2011.

That money allows the group to buy food when donations are low or help families pay utility bills.

Meanwhile, volunteers will begin collecting toys Monday to distribute to children for Christmas in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties.

These days, Coleman mainly worries about her clients staying warm. Several organizations hold coat and quilt drives for the nonprofit organization, keeping its shelves stocked through the region's coldest months.

"Last year, there was a shipment of blankets -- we had hundreds of blankets," she said. "It didn't take us long to distribute them."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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