The Local Life: 'Dine Out' and feel good

Most of us love to eat out. We enjoy the atmosphere, the service and the flavors. Next week when we go out for a meal, we can also enjoy an opportunity to help those in our community who don't have enough to eat.

On Oct. 18, United Way of the Lowcountry is hosting the second annual Dine Out for Hunger at a number of local eateries. The concept is straightforward: We go to eat at the restaurant and say we're supporting Dine Out for Hunger, and at the end of the day, the restaurant donates a percentage of its proceeds to the United Way fundraising campaign.

Last year's event was just for dinner, but the breakfast and lunch crowds wanted an opportunity, too, so Dine Out for Hunger restaurants are available for all three meals this year. (Look for the B, L and D on the list.)

United Way staff member Chrystie Turner is heading up the event for the Small Business division of the annual campaign.

"Health and nutrition is a top priority of our United Way," Turner said, "and our local restaurants are stepping up to do their part, even in these slow economic times."

Last year more than 2,800 men, women and children turned to our local pantries for help putting food on the table. United Way agencies such as Second Helpings and Meals on Wheels delivered more than 1 million pounds of food to homes and community centers. And more than half of all Beaufort and Jasper public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches at school this year.

Turner tells the story of a construction worker who had his 5-year-old daughter with him when he came to United Way for help. He'd received an eviction notice and didn't know what to do.

"I've always worked and never needed help before," he said. Trying to lighten the mood, Turner asked the child what she looked forward to the most about starting school in a few weeks. The answer stunned her: "I'll get to eat lunch every day!"

"That's the reality out there," Turner said. "Kids are having to experience things no child should have to experience, like wondering where their next meal is coming from."

Peter Post, United Way campaign chairman for northern Beaufort County, said the event supports a major identified need in our community: hunger and poor nutrition.

"It gives us an opportunity to spotlight that need, which is often overlooked," Post said. "It's also a great way for the hospitality industry, which is so important to our area, to support our United Way. And because 1 in 3 of our residents are touched by a United Way agency every year, it's likely that some hospitality workers are being served by United Way. This provides them a way to give back."

If you don't see your favorite dining spot on this list, please invite that restaurant to participate. A call to Chrystie Turner at 843-982-3040 by Wednesday morning will get them on the list. (Call that same number to make your own pledge or to volunteer.)

So pick a restaurant (or two or three) from this list and dine out for hunger next Tuesday. Thanks to the generosity of these restaurants, you'll be helping those who can't afford to eat out -- or in some cases to eat at all.

Marge Barber is a retired journalist, community volunteer and former Director of Communications for United Way of the Lowcountry.