All that stood between not eating for disabled Clifford Bigham of Rock Hill was one single bag of groceries. The term “Happy New Year” would not be measured in noisemakers and parties, but whether there were a few canned goods and rolls and maybe even a package of meat.
Bigham walked into Project Hope in Rock Hill to get his food on two legs with splints on them and an arm brace.
“I come here because I got nothing else,” Bigham said. “I get disability but after the rent and the light bill and everything else, there’s nothing left to get something to eat. I sure hope for a happy new year for people, and me, and these nice people here might be the only ones that can make it happy.”
If it were not for Project Hope, a charity started decades ago by volunteers from Oakland Baptist Church that serves people inside the boundaries of the Rock Hill school district, “I might just have to sit in the dark and be hungry,” Bigham said.
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And now that the holiday giving season is nearly over, there is the annual concern at nonprofits of trying to stretch food supplies and donated dollars. Although many nonprofits saw an increase in giving during the Thanksgiving to Christmas holiday season, the needy and hungry remain struggling to live day-to-day and month-to-month.
At Pilgrims’ Inn, another Rock Hill nonprofit that also runs a women’s shelter, the need remains high, and staffers and volunteers say there is no end in sight as the calendar turns to 2014. The number of people on food stamps – a good measure for nonprofits to know how much might be needed for the poor and hungry – grew from about 45,000 in 2008 to about 60,000 in 2013 in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
Many charities have had lines so long in recent weeks that by the time doors open, the number of people who can be served that day already has been met as the needy rush in. Project Hope gave out “emergency” bags of food to people Monday that would last a day or two, said one of the agency’s volunteers, Lindsey Waldrop.
“We weren’t even going to be open as we got ready for the regular hours starting Monday after the new year, but we saw the need and wanted to help one last time,” Waldrop said. “These people have nowhere else to go.”
Most days the pantry gives out food to last the person, or small family, if there are enough supplies to give out, said Bo Coleman, the agency’s volunteer director. Like many places, Project Hope also helps with emergency assistance to help people avoid disconnected service, get kerosene and even medication. Some places even offer rent assistance when people are facing evictions.
Yet monetary donations remain crucial to these nonprofits. Although all the pantries accept food donations, most of them need money buy food in bulk from wholesalers. Money that comes in also can then be given out in checks directly payable to utilities.
Charities also have to make sure local residents know local donations stay local. Project Hope carries the same name as a Charlotte-based charity, and that group’s fundraising confused some donors, Coleman said.
“We have been blessed with generosity to help those people in need,” Coleman said. “Yet what we know is that these people we serve, many with small children, are in real need in January and beyond, too. We depend on that tremendous generosity of local people to help their neighbors.”
Project Hope has no paid staff: More than 60 volunteers helped more than 8,600 people in 2013, said George Kelly, the treasurer who tracks donations in and assistance out.
Just like that one emergency bag of groceries was the difference between a hungry new year or not for disabled Clifford Bigham, he was not alone at the end of 2013 at Project Hope. For more than two dozen others who arrived even before the doors were opened, volunteers such as Lindsey Waldrop and Stokes Mayfield filled the bags that would fill the void.
One of those people was Dana Herring, 49. Disabled, she received a bag of food and was thankful to the point of hugging volunteer Lindsey Waldrop.
Herring called the generosity, “What so many people like me hope for in the new year – enough to eat.”