Food pantries struggle to meet increased need

Food pantries, social outreach, St. John Church in North Charleston, Our Lady of Mercy Outreach on Johns Island, Catholic Charities Pee Dee, St. Peter Church in Columbia, St. Vincent de Paul Society

Food pantries, social outreach, St. John Church in North Charleston, Our Lady of Mercy Outreach on Johns Island, Catholic Charities Pee Dee, St. Peter Church in Columbia, St. Vincent de Paul SocietyCHARLESTON—Food pantries across the South Carolina are struggling to keep up with increased demand this year.

St. John Church in North Charleston ran out of food and had to temporarily close the doors.

Luckily, St. John School came to the rescue during the food drive for “Mickey’s Christmas Mission.” The students raised 597 pounds of pantry items for the collection, and Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone in turn gave that food to the church so its pantry could reopen.

St. John isn’t the only place dedicated to helping the poor that is having a tough time. Al Alvarez, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Joseph Church in Columbia, said he could sum up their situation with one word: Tight.

Normally, the society helps people pay their rent and bills, and fill prescriptions, but for now they have been forced to abandon everything except keeping the food bank open.

“We’re counting our pennies,” he said, adding that they live for food drives and those fifth Sundays when the food pantry receives the church collection.

Part of the dilemma is the big jump in the number of families seeking help this year. In every pocket of the state, social ministries are seeing nearly double the people they usually help.

Mary Corner, parish administrator at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, said they are handing out 900 snack bags a week, up from an average of 500 last year.

Those receiving help cover a whole spectrum of society. Corner said they see homeless people living in tents in the woods, men and women who lost their jobs, families who lost their homes, and so many who never before needed help.

The good news for some areas is that the need is being matched by donations.

“All of the churches are aware of St. Anthony’s pantry and they all help,” Corner said. “We are truly blessed.”

Community groups and inspired individuals also help those in need.

One group of young men joined together to feed about 500 people in a poor section of Greenville at Thanksgiving, Corner said.

In Columbia, Robert Keeder and others from St. Peter Church’s St. Vincent de Paul Society feed almost 1,000 people at Thanksgiving and Christmas each year.

But the need never ends, and with more people out of work, social ministries have to find creative ways to help as many as they can.

“We’re always challenged. That’s the story of our life. But it doesn’t deter us,” said Daryl Kangarloo, regional coordinator of Catholic Charities’ Pee Dee office.   

According to their statistics, the Conway area saw an 8 percent increase in the month of October alone, with about 40 extra families seeking assistance.

Sister Carol Wentworth said they are also seeing a large number of new families at Our Lady of Mercy Outreach Services on Johns Island. In November, they helped 25 additional families, and in October it was 28.

“That’s a lot for one month,” Sister Carol said.

The outreach center has not lacked for food so far, thanks to generous donations from community groups, school food drives, and individual gifts, she said. They also have funds to purchase food from the local food bank when they need it.

Sister Carol encouraged those in need to call their local food bank, which can direct them to their closest pantry.

Collection suggestions

Charleston Catholic School—Place a paper bag on your neighbors’ porches with a note asking them to please donate whatever pantry items they can, and telling them the bag will be collected at the end of the week.

Our Lady of Mercy Outreach
—When your grocery store has buy one, get one free days, donate the extra item to a food pantry.