David Lauderdale

Volunteers beg so Hilton Head’s poor won’t have to

Society of St. Vincent de Paul volunteers John Musiello Jr. and Cathy Thomas of Hilton Head Island work in the food pantry at Holy Family Catholic Church Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016.
Society of St. Vincent de Paul volunteers John Musiello Jr. and Cathy Thomas of Hilton Head Island work in the food pantry at Holy Family Catholic Church Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. dlauderdale@islandpacket.com

You would think Second Helpings was the second coming.

That’s how anxiously its delivery of donated prepared foods, fruits and vegetables was awaited Thursday morning at the food pantry at Holy Family Catholic Church on Pope Avenue.

It shows how Hurricane Matthew is putting a squeeze on the poor of Hilton Head Island.

And it shows how volunteer-driven nonprofits depend on one another more than ever to meet a surge of demand.

At the food pantry, a room full of clients wait patiently as volunteers with the church’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul set out food for them to take home.

The society provides food, emergency financial aid and scholarships.

Since Hurricane Matthew hit on Oct. 8, its volunteers have worked nonstop.

“Our requests for aid have increased at least tenfold,” society president Margie Tomczak said.

I flipped through a stack of case records taken by volunteers during face-to-face meetings with people reaching out for help. Some come pushing baby strollers. Others are in wheelchairs. They are white, black and brown.

Some of the reports mention ongoing issues, like deadbeat dads and single moms. One says the husband abandoned his wife and children, but his mother was still living with them.

But the common denominator is this chill wind of Hurricane Matthew: Hilton Head’s hourly workers are broke.

They spent hundreds of dollars to evacuate. They lost at least a week of work, with no income. In some cases, the working poor have no job to come home to because business is slow, or a business is closed.

But the rent is due. In one case, a woman was required to pay rent even though her apartment was flooded and uninhabitable. Tomczak said St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church on the north end of Hilton Head has opened a hall to give those forced to live in their cars a place to spend the night.

“It’s tragic,” said longtime society volunteer Frank Cleary, sitting at a desk at Holy Family on Pope Avenue. He’s retired. So is Tomczak. He also runs the church’s prison ministry, traveling to a state pen in Allendale.

I found them to be like a lot of the so-called “rich fat-cats” of Hilton Head. They are driven to help others.

They’re not alone. Several organizations help specifically with food. Every meal can help stretch dollars in modest homes where monthly rent can be well above $1,000. Hilton Head has several food pantries and soup kitchens, together making food available most days of the week.

On financial assistance, the Society of St. Vincent communicates regularly with the Deep Well Project so the two organizations know what clients have already received.

Tomczak says they’re trying to provide half the rent for those who need it.

Her organization has no overhead and depends entirely on donations. It will dip into reserves to meet this demand. It might have to cut back on the scholarships it sees as a way out of poverty.

“The reason we have a reserve is that one of our beautiful parishioners left us in her will,” Tomczak said.

Beyond that, they will stand at the doors after Mass and accept donations.

“St. Vincent begs for money,” Tomczak said. “We believe in begging.”

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