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Update: Bluffton Self Help opens first 'shop' for Thanksgiving meal

Janis Sanford, a volunteer from Bluffton, loads bags of Thanksgiving food onto shelves at Bluffton Self Help before opening Nov. 24, 2015. The bags were for people unable to make it to the charity last week during special distribution hours to put together a take-home Thanksgiving meal, executive director Lili Coleman said.
Janis Sanford, a volunteer from Bluffton, loads bags of Thanksgiving food onto shelves at Bluffton Self Help before opening Nov. 24, 2015. The bags were for people unable to make it to the charity last week during special distribution hours to put together a take-home Thanksgiving meal, executive director Lili Coleman said. dearley@islandpacket.com

For the first time, Bluffton Self Help allowed its clients this year to shop for their Thanksgiving meals rather than simply providing them with a prepackaged bag of groceries.

Volunteers and employees at the nonprofit's headquarters on Sheridan Park Circle said Tuesday the new model for distributing holiday meals better replicates a typical supermarket experience.

"What we did this year is called 'client choice,' which means the clients can come in and pick what they want for their Thanksgiving celebrations," charity executive director Lili Coleman said. "... In the past, we would hand them a bag (of groceries) and a turkey. But this time, they got to shop just like everybody else."

Alyson Barber, Bluffton Self Help's development coordinator, said the client choice model better allows "the clients to preserve their dignity."

"Instead of them coming in and being given something, they get to really decide what their family needs. ... It's less like we're giving them a handout and saying, 'Here's this charity box.'

"It's more like, 'Come in and shop in our store.'"

Coleman said the shift to client choice benefited not only the shoppers, but Bluffton Self Help's volunteers.

Volunteer supervisor Rich Swartzwelder agreed.

"We get more than a handful of elderly people. So I would hold the basket, and they would pick out the stuff and put it in," he said. "... I like the hands-on aspect when I'm actually with the clients. That's very gratifying."

Coleman said the organization gave out about 400 meals over three days last week and plans to give out about 30 more this week.

Requests for donations this year were down slightly compared to last Thanksgiving "because the economy is a little better," she said.

Though Bluffton Self Help received fewer donated turkeys this year, it got more gift cards, which were used to buy turkeys and hams.

Because of the success of this year's program, Coleman said the organization plans to take a client choice approach next Thanksgiving as well.

As soon as Thanksgiving week ends, Bluffton Self Help shifts its focus to Christmas and its annual toy store, which opens Dec. 12.

Toy donations are needed. Bluffton Self Help accepts brand new, boxed toys valued at less than $25, as well as donations of wrapping paper.

"The toy shop is probably our biggest project of the year," Swartzwelder said.

Follow reporter Lucas High on Twitter on twitter.com/IPBG_Lucas.

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