DILLON—Teresa Johnson Mason won’t take no for an answer when it comes to helping people.
Since 2008, she has been coordinator of Helping Hands, a food pantry funded by donations and proceeds from the Johnson Family Foundation, started by her parents Robert and Vivian Johnson to help the needy in the area.
“When I first started, there were a lot of naysayers, but they’ve found out in Dillon County they don’t tell me I can’t do something,” she said. “I’ve learned that if you’re doing right, God will bless you, and he has really blessed all of our ministries.”
Helping Hands serves about 650 people each month locally and at two satellite locations in nearby Lake View and Latta.
Mason shops for food three times a week at the Florence regional office of Harvest Hope Food Bank. Area businesses, schools and churches also donate to the pantry, which is staffed by volunteers.
Mason grew up in Latta and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a degree in accounting. She was raised Southern Baptist but joined the church shortly after her marriage to her college sweetheart, Brian, a cradle Catholic.
The Masons have two sons and a daughter and attend St. Louis Church.
Helping others became a big part of her life while the family lived in Charlotte. Mason volunteered with the Girl Scouts, and at a food pantry run by People Attempting to Help Others, a program operated by several churches.
Her desire to help increased when the Masons moved back to her childhood home four years ago. Her father started the foundation to reach as many people as possible.
“My parents both grew up here, and my father said his family was not well off,” she explained. “He has said if it wasn’t for the generosity of others, there probably would have been days he went without food and clothes. He wanted to give something back.”
Mason works with several other programs funded by the foundation, such as Dillon County Partnership 4 Kids. It gives clothing, furniture, school supplies, Christmas gifts and other items to foster children and youth in the juvenile justice system. Also, Ramps-To-Go provides wheelchair ramps for disabled people. Also, she assisted the Pee Dee Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Abuse.
At the food pantry, the entire family pitches in at Christmas and delivers gifts to people with special needs.
“I see God working every day,” she said. “We’re blessed because any time we put a call out for anything, we get it.”
A rough economy and unemployment has resulted in many first-time clients. Mrs. Mason helps people learn how to navigate the system, fill out paperwork and learn skills such as how to prepare and follow a budget.
“There are frustrating days, some days when you just want to close the doors, but then you get someone who comes in and will start crying when they see how much food they’re getting,” she said. “When I see how we’re helping, I say ‘Thank you God, I needed that message!’ He always sends me a light.”