THAT'S LAUDERDALE

When they need a hand up, don't leave their hands empty

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMay 15, 2014 

Deep Well Project volunteer Richard Walter would like to have more goods in the social services agency's "closet."

STAFF PHOTO

She didn't look like a lady on Hilton Head Island who spends a lot of time at the bridge table.

Life, it appeared, has dealt her harder challenges than making seven no-trump.

When our paths crossed this week at The Deep Well Project's "closet," she was stoically addressing her latest challenge.

She needed two twin beds.

Three small children were with her, one slung over an outstretched hip, that universal position of love, convenience and burden.

She needs the beds because two more children are coming to live with her.

I didn't ask her why. But she said she'll have five children, the oldest being 8.

They are her great-grandchildren.

Unfortunately, the closet didn't have any twin beds. One king mattress set was all that was available that day.

Volunteer Richard Walter said the closet needs more furniture. It all comes from donors, and it's all given to people living on Hilton Head and in Bluffton who qualify through the Deep Well vetting process.

Walter said he's afraid people don't know about the closet, or don't think of it when changing out their beds, furniture, housewares, linens, appliances or building supplies.

But he sees a steady stream of people who need those goods.

The Deep Well Project is a volunteer-driven, 41-year-old private social services agency. Its mission is to "help neighbors in need by providing basic assistance in emergency situations. This assistance is immediate and non-bureaucratic, intended to provide clients with a 'hand up, not a handout.' "

Its closet is not nearly as well-known as its "pantry," now filled with canned goods donated last weekend through mail carriers.

But the closet is one of the few places the poor can get free furniture, bedding, appliances, silverware and the like. It's tightly regulated, but those who qualify get vouchers that enable them to shop with dignity in the neat storage room that was organized by Esther Williams, a Deep Well institution who is now retired.

Walter said it's important that people donate only goods they would use themselves, not junk.

A Deep Well truck makes pickups on Fridays. The closet is open from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Deep Well office on Beach City Road. Walter volunteers two days per week, after "retiring full time."

"A lot of businesses are good to us," Walter said.

A hotel donated 500 pillows. Another hotel gave 100 chairs when it remodeled a meeting room. The Home Depot is a good partner.

A woman rode up on her bicycle while I was there. She had a voucher for a washer and dryer, but none were available.

Walter said the most interesting discovery for him has been "the politeness of the people. Everyone seems to be appreciative of what we do."

The closet can be like a gathering place, he said. "It's a rewarding place, especially when you hear their stories."

The woman with three great-grandchildren in tow, and two more on the way, left with her thin arms filled with sheets.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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