Bluffton Self Help -- the nonprofit organization that helps provide food and services to people who are getting their lives back together after lay-offs, injuries or other major challenges -- is struggling to make its own ends meet this holiday season.
Self Help depends on monetary donations, volunteer work and food donations to keep its core services of food, clothing and short-term financial assistance going. Two weeks ago, the pantry at Self Help was so low on food donations that the organization had to take money from its operating fund so it could feed the 125 people who came through it doors seeking help.
"There are a lot of factors going into our struggle to maintain donations," said Peter Bromley, president of Self Help's board of directors. "A lot of it is timing. Vacation and summer seasons are over and the big stores are cutting back on inventory as they get ready for Christmas."
Bluffton Self Help typically gets a significant amount of its donations from area supermarkets. When store items are near their expiration date, they are often given to area food banks.
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"It is usually a big help to us," Bromley said. "We also have our own pantry built up from personal donations from the community, but this year whether it is the economy or local supermarkets not ordering as much, there is less to give away."
Individuals or families in need come to Self Help for its scheduled food line on Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings.
"We've got more people than ever coming through our food lines," Bromley said. "Last year we had 12,000 people coming through. We're tracking way ahead of that this year. We're seeing more and more parents coming in to feed their children.
"It is pretty tough for people to admit they need to stand in line for food. I don't think we have ever turned anyone away who needs food."
Despite the continuing efforts from Self Help's extended family of organizations, churches and community drives, people are generally giving less this year -- perhaps because they have less to give or think other people are donating.
Gail Henderson, a Self Help volunteer, explained her reason for helping, "I felt like I was fortunate and needed to give back to the community. When I looked around I saw a lot of people in need. I'm bilingual, and it makes me feel good to be able to help somebody else."
Henderson volunteers at least once a week and during special holiday season days. She said the people in the food line are normal, everyday folks.
"I've seen the type of people that normally we wouldn't have seen before. With the economy, they can't make ends meet. There is always a mix but now there are even more white- and blue-collar workers who lose their jobs. There are children with parents who are working so hard. It is difficult."
Self Help has 30 volunteers who are ready to take food or monetary donations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday at 1264 May River Road, Bluffton.
"We will take anything you can give as long as it is not opened or grossly expired," Bromley said. "Canned meats like ham and tuna fish are in high demand. We love canned fruits and vegetables, pastas and dinner mixes. The staples like bagged rice, cereals, peanut butter and jelly, hearty soups and of course, baby food. Nothing is ever wasted. What you bring in will go out."