Hunger is a hidden, but monumental, problem in South Carolina. In our state, nearly 750,000 people struggle with food insecurity. That’s one in six of your friends and neighbors who aren’t able to meet their basic needs.
When we think of hunger, we tend to think of the hungry as a faceless ‘them.’ It’s not here, it’s someone in another country, or the homeless person we see with a sign on the side of the road. We certainly don’t think of our neighbors, or even family, as being hungry. But, the simple fact is that hunger is not ‘them’, it’s us.
Recently, a mother with three young boys came in to one of Harvest Hope Food Bank’s Emergency Food Pantries. She was in a wheelchair, and was very thin. The volunteer working in the counseling area realized that she may need a little more time than usual to help provide assistance, so she asked the boys if they would like to go back to our Emergency Food Pantry and assist with packing food for other clients. The boys went to the back to help, and the mom stayed to share her story, talk with the counselor, and learn about available resources.
The stories that Harvest Hope’s clients tell are as unique as the people who tell them, but there are themes. One of the most common is that they never thought they would be at a food bank. Most clients at a food bank are people, just like you, who have fallen on hard times; through layoffs, loss of wages, medical bills, car accidents and other challenges, their lives have been turned upside down.
In Newberry County, 5,260 of us struggle with hunger. That’s 14% of the residents of our county who don’t always have enough to eat. According to Feeding America, the national food bank association, it would take nearly a million meals to ensure that everyone in Newberry County has enough to eat. That number sounds huge, and it is, but there are efforts being made to meet that need.
After the mother finished in the counseling area and had spoken to the counselor about the many community resources she could utilize, she headed to the Emergency Food Pantry packing area to find her boys. They had packed three buggies full of food, helping to provide for others, even as they needed help themselves. Our goal is to provide resources to clients so that we’re not just meeting their food needs with 90 to 100 pounds of food per person, but also helping to resolve the reason they are experiencing hunger. When the boys spotted their mom, they said they were having fun and wanted to know if they could stay. After their mom said they had to go, the littlest boy quietly asked “Are we getting food?”
That question, “Are we getting food?” is tragically common among children in the Midlands. Statistics show that more than 1,600 children, or almost 20% of youth, in Newberry County struggle with hunger. Schools help fill the need through free and reduced meals, but at nights, on weekends, and during holidays, families often strain to keep food on the table.
To help provide for the need of the hungry in Newberry County, Harvest Hope Food Bank provided more than 374,000 meals in Newberry County during fiscal year 2017. This was accomplished through a variety of programs, led by our core business of working with over 200 partner agencies in the Midlands who help us provide food to those in need. Our other programs include Harvest Hope’s Emergency and Mobile Food Pantries, children’s programs like the BackPack and Kids Cafe programs, as well as specialized veteran and senior feeding programs. Harvest Hope also works with hundreds of partner agencies to help provide food across its territory. Every day, thousands of people in Newberry County eat because of the food provided by Harvest Hope Food Bank.
Providing food is more than just giving clients enough to eat, it allows people to ensure that they don’t have to make impossible choices. The dilemmas faced by Harvest Hope’s clients are heartbreaking; 78% have had to choose between paying for food and utilities, 71% have had to choose between food and medical care or medicine and 56% have even had to choose between food and their rent or mortgage.
Fortunately for the mother and her three boys, Harvest Hope’s Emergency Food Pantry was there to help. When the boys were told that the first buggy that they had packed was for them, the middle child said, “Wow, it’s like Christmas. We’ve never had this much food!” His older brother hugged him and replied, “That’s what good people do to help people like us.”
Harvest Hope Food Bank is grateful to have had the opportunity to help that family, but there are tens of thousands of other families who still need assistance. The average client who comes to one of Harvest Hope’s Emergency Food Pantries visits just three times before they have gotten back on their feet and regained self-sufficiency. From January to October, we’ve seen nearly 141,000 individuals in our Midlands Emergency Food Pantries. Harvest Hope aids people who have hit a rough patch rebuild their lives. We often see former clients who needed our services come back to help those who are now in need, as they were once themselves assisted.
Our Emergency Food Pantries are unique within the state, as we are the only food bank in South Carolina who serves the needy in this manner. In November of 2016, we served well over 17,000 individuals in our Midlands Emergency Food Pantries. That’s over 1.6 million pounds of food distributed to those in need from this one site alone. To fund those meals, it would take donations of just under $330,000. Reaching that number will not be difficult if the Midlands community rallies together, and to do that we need your help. Businesses, philanthropists, and people just like you can help us eliminate hunger in the Newberry County.
However, without your support, Harvest Hope cannot continue its work. For each dollar you donate, Harvest Hope can provide five meals to those in need. You can also organize a food drive to gather food and fill empty plates, or join us on site to volunteer. Your help allows our 11 hunger relief programs to provide much needed assistance in a wide variety of communities, including military communities, diabetic and special dietary needs communities and even communities like your own.
When you help Harvest Hope Food Bank, you’re helping people in your community, probably even someone you know. Visit www.HarvestHope.org or call 803-254-4432 to see how you can help give hope and Help Our People Eat.
Denise Holland is the CEO of Harvest Hope Food Bank. Harvest Hope serves 20 counties across South Carolina with a mission of providing hunger relief with dignity, compassion and education to people in need. Harvest Hope is a non-profit organization with food banks in Greenville, Columbia and Florence.