In 1986, Bluffton's Ida Martin opened a nearly empty refrigerator in the home of a single mother with five children and immediately filled it.
That small act of kindness also began to fill a hole in the Bluffton community. People needed help, but there was no single organization to pull it together. Thus was born Bluffton Self Help in 1987. The name fit the organization's mission, and it fit the woman who got it going and helped it keep pace with Bluffton's incredible growth, particularly over the past decade. As the town and surrounding area boomed, so did the need for emergency financial help, food and clothing.
In this world, some people are doers. And Martin, who died at age 86 on June 12, was one of them. Bluffton will celebrate her life at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Campbell Chapel AME Church in Bluffton.
John Orth, vice president of Bluffton Self Help's board of directors, hit on one of Martin's key strengths. She recognized that no matter how down and out someone might be, they still deserve our respect and care as one of God's children.
"She reminded us that as Bluffton has grown and developed, there is another Bluffton that is still there that needs help," Orth said, "and not to give things away just for the sake of giving them away, but give them with a piece of your heart so the dignity of the person getting them is preserved."
It is worth noting that the person who led Martin to that home and its barren refrigerator was another doer, a woman who never shied away from a person who needed help or a job that needed to be done -- Charlotte Heinrichs, founder of The Deep Well Project on Hilton Head Island. In Ida Martin, she found a kindred spirit.
Deep Well couldn't help Bluffton families, Heinrichs had told Martin over lunch that day. It was founded only to help islanders. But Heinrichs knew a Bluffton family in dire straights. "Where do they live?" Martin recalled asking, and then -- "Well, that's on the next street from my house. Let's meet them."
After that visit, Martin got on the phone with leaders of Bluffton churches that were providing charitable services to bring their work under one umbrella.
From her garage, Bluffton Self Help moved to the old police station in town to its big new quarters in Sheridan Park. Martin retired as director in 2005, but never left the organization, continuing to serve on the board and help connect the group to the community.
Her work did not go unnoticed. In 2012, she received the Alice Glenn Doughtie Good Citizenship Award from the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and was placed on the town of Bluffton's Wall of Honor.
Most notably, in 2011, she received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama at the White House. The nation's second-highest civilian honor recognizes Americans who perform "exemplary deeds of service."
When Martin announced her plans to step down as director in 2004, then board president Darrell Brooks, said, "I don't think we can find another Mrs. Martin."
Fortunately, this Mrs. Martin passed our way, and the community is better for it.