Bluffton Self Help executive director Lili Coleman paused as she walked between shelves half-stocked with canned food and swept her hand across the aisle.
"We went out and bought all this food yesterday; these shelves were all empty before then," she said. "And this will be wiped out by tomorrow."
The nonprofit -- which primarily provides short-term emergency financial assistance, free food and free clothing to needy residents -- is facing its most critical food shortage in years, Coleman said.
She attributed much of the shortage to lower-than-expected donations from an annual food drive sponsored by the local postal service each April.
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"Normally we get about 30,000 pounds of food through that drive," she said. "This year, it was half that."
She speculated that budget constraints forced the postal service to limit its advertising of this year's drive, which typically comprised about 30 percent of her organization's annual food donations.
Coleman also said increased demand was another key factor in the shortage.
The nonprofit is projected to serve 28,000 in its first year since moving to its Sheridan Park location -- a 28-percent increase over previous years.
More than 400 people walk through her doors seeking food each week, Coleman said.
"We go through 2,000 cans and food items a week," she said. "It's hard to keep it in stock."
Because of membership with the Food Bank of the Lowcountry, her group can get fruit and vegetables for relatively low prices, but it still relies on the community for nonperishables.
She added that many of her volunteers tend to leave in the summer months, making it difficult to find people able to travel to the food banks in Yemassee and Charleston to replenish her stock.
Coleman said her group is especially in need of boxed cereals, peanut butter, canned vegetables, meats, tuna and soups.
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