Pantry supplies run low as more families seek help

Miscellany/Amy Wise Taylor: Elizabeth Case Bartell, client advocate at Catholic Charities, helps a volunteer unload donated supplies at Our Lady's Pantry.

CHARLESTON—On a recent visit to Catholic Charities, a volunteer pointed out their very bare shelves, with whole racks of shelving sitting empty.

Beneath a sign proclaiming “Fruit” sat a solitary can of peaches that had just been donated.

“As you can see, supplies are really low at the moment,” said Elizabeth Case Bartell, client advocate at Our Lady’s Pantry.

She said they had seen a huge increase in need because of COVID-19, which had decimated the amount of supplies they typically keep on hand.

Rocío Maldonado, site administrator of Catholic Charities- Coastal Office, said they had seen a spike of about 50% in the number of families that need help.

Read the interview with Maldonado below:

Q: What do you need most of at this point?

A: We are most in need of canned and dried fruits, vegetables, and also grains (pasta, rice, cereals, oatmeal). The bags we give out are not one size fits all. We use a shopping list in our pantry where we give items according to household size and food groups. Our charts have the appropriate number of items needed according to family size for each food group. We try to provide enough nutritious food to households of all sizes. Due to the big increase in new households and also existing clients whose situations have changed, we have to come up with new ways of increasing our food supply. The biggest household we had was a family of 13 this week.

Q: Are most of your clients older, or do you need baby supplies too?

A: Not all of our clients are older. We are usually split evenly between our populations. We serve a very diverse group of clients, from those who are homeless, elderly, families or single parents with babies and children, to single middle-aged adults. We have a section in our pantry for “Special Needs” where we include baby supplies (food, diapers, formula), hygiene items (toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, etc), cleaning supplies, adult diapers, and anything that could be useful for our clients that doesn’t fall within our other food categories. These special needs items are not always the most affordable, so we try to have these available for our clients.

Q: How big of an increase have you seen in the last month or so?

A: We have seen an increase of about 50%  in the last few weeks. Our food pantry serves on average 70-80 households/families a week, however this week we saw that many in just the first two days we were open. Many have lost their jobs and are coming to us for the very first time, and we have seen new bigger families with children to feed. We have also seen an increase in the homeless population coming to us, as many sources of food closer to their location have closed and there are less options of places for them to go. We have also adjusted our usual guidelines where clients received food from us once every 30 days, to providing food as often as they may need it. Because of all of these factors we are going through food much quicker than normal.

Q: What does a family typically get in their bag?

A: We are still following our usual shopping model of the food groups, which includes fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, shelf stable meals and frozen meats/proteins, so people should expect to get items from these categories in their bags. Something unique about our pantries is that we not only provide canned and dry goods, but most times we also have a supply of fresh produce and frozen meats to complement their canned and dry goods.

Q: Do people have to register?

A: People do not need to pre-register for our Drive-Thru pantry. All they need to do is show up in their cars, where we will ask for their household size, a form of ID if available, and their phone number.

Q: Where do you get your supplies from?

A: We receive a large portion of our food supply from the Lowcountry Food Bank at a subsidized cost. We also receive donations from our parishes, the general public, food drives, and a few local businesses.

Our Lady’s Pantry is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1662 Ingram Road. For more information, visit