The back door opens at Pilgrims’ Inn on West Main Street, just a block from downtown, and there stand the poor of Rock Hill. They carry old bags or empty grocery bags or empty hands with no bags.
Volunteers fill boxes and bags and hand out food, as they have for 35 years at this place created to help the poorest, neediest, most vulnerable in the city.
A nonprofit charity, Pilgrims’ Inn runs a homeless shelter for women and children and transitional housing for single women who were homeless.
Sheryl Keeter, 66, is a volunteer.
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She was once a client.
“I was homeless, I had nothing, and Pilgrims’ Inn saved me,” Keeter said. “This place right here every days saves people, many women and children, from living in the streets. It is that simple.”
Pilgrims’ Inn runs a child care center for the poor who are trying to work, or go to school, and struggling to make it. The goal always, staffers say, is to help people find their way to a life outside Pilgrims’ Inn.
“We want people to succeed in life and give them the tools to do it,” said Ashley Garrick, social services coordinator at Pilgrims’ Inn. “We help people help themselves.”
Homeless and transitional housing is for emergency action, to keep women with children from having to live in the streets, in cars, and in fear of dying in the cold. The agency makes dozens of referrals each week to other social service organizations for the clients to get the life skills needed for employment, housing and, hopefully, success.
A volunteer board of directors oversees the agency.
“We are committed to helping the women and children of this community who are trying to make their lives better,” said Stephen Cox, a Rock Hill lawyer who has been board president for more than a decade.
The agency depends in small part on grants but mainly on donations from churches, businesses and individuals.
“It is a true community effort – we serve the community and the community provides to us to do it,” said Juanita Lester, the executive director.
Last month the S.C. Secretary of State’s office named Pilgrims’ Inn one of the state’s top 10 nonprofits for using donations for client services and not administrative costs. The award is called an “angel” award.
“These people in need in York County are out there and we find them and help them,” said Lester.
Dozens of volunteers help. Students from South Pointe High School donate time to help feed others.
“I am proud to help people,” said Travion McCree, 18, a South Pointe senior.
The food bank has always been, and continues to be, an outreach that is the difference for some of the poorest people in the city in survival.
“The people we help with food, these are people who have run out of food at home because their money ran out,” said Jennifer Gullatt, community services coordinator at Pilgrims’ Inn, who runs the food pantry. “This is the food that helps them be able to live.”
The need is so great that the week before Thanksgiving, the pantry shelves were empty. Donations filled the shelves again this past week, but food runs out fast. The poor continue to come.
At Pilgrims’ Inn the food runs low and the money runs short and the great people of Rock Hill and York County make sure that the Christmas story everyone knows – that there was no room at the inn for a guy named Joseph and a woman named Mary to have a baby who would be called Jesus – never happens again around here.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065
Want to know more?
To learn more about how to help Pilgrims’ Inn, go to pilgrimsinn.org or call 803-327-4227.