By Deirdre C. Mays
MOUNT PLEASANT — The crowd that gathered to attend the groundbreaking for the new East Cooper Community Outreach Sept. 20 were witness to the results of over a decade of neighbors helping neighbors.
One day short of the 13-year anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, the outreach resulting from the devastation of that storm, began a fresh chapter with the building of a new $1 million facility across from Laing Middle School on Six Mile Road.
The center will also house the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Shades of Hope.
Msgr. James A. Carter created ECCO immediately after the infamous hurricane in an effort to help people who needed food, shelter and jobs after the storm.
The diocesan vicar general said the outreach started as “a dream to reach out and respond to the needs of those around us.
“We are called to respond to the mandate of Jesus Christ to feed the hungry and clothe the naked,” he explained.
Rick Leary, executive director of the outreach, said it was designed to stay in business as long as it needed to get people back on their feet.
“Thirteen years later, it’s still going,” he said. “There was a permanent need for the services we provide. It was serendipity. This is neighbors helping neighbors with dignity. Now we will have a dignified location.”
The outreach on North Lansing Drive offers food, financial support for items such as medical supplies and informational resources and referrals.
Thanks to the support of the Town of Mount Pleasant, more than two dozen churches including Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian, Hibben United Methodist, Sea Coast Christian Community and Christ Episcopal, to name but a few, and the countless volunteers, it continued to broaden its services over time. People like Dr. Timothy Assey and Dr. John Howard started a dental clinic.
“The ecumenical support is a crucial element of providing the support that is necessary for ECCO to function. The churches always stepped up to any request made by Msgr. Carter,” Leary said.
So, too, did Bishop David B. Thompson. He offered to loan the money for ECCO from the Diocese of Charleston. However, that wasn’t necessary after word got out. Benefactors like the late Don Barheit shared the dream.
“The ill wind of Hurricane Hugo blew a great blessing within the East Cooper community that keeps echoing,” quipped retired Bishop David B. Thompson. “ECCO exists because of people who care about each other.
The land for the new building was a gift of Sami and Jonathan Butler.
He said that ECCO will open its new doors in the spring of 2003.