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After Christmas, the need for help remains

Tuesday morning at Project Hope, the first topic of conversation wasn't who got what for Christmas.

It wasn't second or third on anybody's list, either, at this place that gives out food, and sometimes utility help, and, yes, hope to the needy.

Project Hope's waiting room was filled Tuesday as people walked through the rain with shopping carts filled with food, trying to make it through New Year's and beyond.

There was no talk of swank New Year's Eve parties.

A tiny girl named Madeline Watkins, 11 years old, whose grandmother is a volunteer at Project Hope, loaded the carts.

"I think helping people is what being a good person is all about," Madeline said.

People who have overdue utility bills, or kids' mouths to feed and not enough food, had to worry about those more pressing problems. In the waiting room at a charity, the term "recession" is not some word that political candidate millionaires use; it is a word people use to describe how they are trying to feed their kids or keep the lights and heat on.

Utopia Ward, mother of four children, said she lost her certified nursing assistant job recently, so she had to seek assistance at Project Hope.

"We came for food, and we found out that they helped with electricity," Ward said. "This is a blessing today."

Another lady, Brenda Brice, said she is a second-shift school custodian. But this week there is no school - thus, no paycheck.

"It is hard to make it stretch," Brice said.

Pre-Christmas donations helped so many people with toys or other holiday needs, said Bo Coleman, executive director of Project Hope, but the need for people to feed children or keep heat on is an all-year problem.

"We have had a large number of new people come in lately, the newly unemployed or those whose benefits have run out, and we find that some have had to move in with relatives or friends to keep a roof over their heads," Coleman said. "These are people who spent their savings, whatever reserve they had, and now they just don't have anything left."

Donations toward utilities, medicine, or other emergencies are especially scarce, said Coleman and other volunteers, but such help can keep people from becoming homeless.

Many who went to Project Hope on Tuesday had done their best to get through the Christmas holiday but now face the prospects of an uncertain new year. Some have never asked anyone for help before.

One elderly woman pushed a cartful of groceries through the downpour to load her old car.

"I have grandkids to feed, and I didn't have anything to feed them," she said.

The need after Christmas knows no geography, race, or any other description.

In Chester, at Turning Point and Dove's Nest charities, the stock of food is desperately low, and donations are always needed to help people with bills and food, said worker Anita Boulware.

"We open the food pantry when we have food to give, and we don't open when we don't have food," Boulware said. "It is that simple. People are in need, and we can only give what we have."

Those volunteering at charities said the giving spirit of the holidays started before Thanksgiving and has been tremendous. But now that Christmas has passed, needs remain, and many people are in dire situations.

"Need is higher than ever, and each person who receives food or any assistance, the likelihood is they have children at home, or someone else who is depending on this to make it through a week," said Coleman of Project Hope. "Now is the time of year that those donations plainly save people."

Want to help?

Many places offer help and accept donations. Many serve people who live within that area's school district boundaries. Call first to check hours and days of operation and whether appointments are needed. A few charities resume normal operating days and hours Monday after the new year.

United Way of York County - 803-324-2735; 211 is its automated referral line.

Pilgrims' Inn - 236 W. Main St., Rock Hill, 803-327-4227

Project Hope - 411 Park Ave., Rock Hill, 803-328-8000

Salvation Army - 119 S. Charlotte Ave., Rock Hill, 803-324-5141

Fort Mill Care Center - 513 Banks St., Fort Mill, 803-547-7620

Clover Area Assistance Center - 1130 S.C. 55 East, Clover, 803-222-4837

PATH - 204 Raille St., York, 803-684-3992

Tender Hearts Community Outreach - 511 Kings Mountain St., York, 803-684-3132

Turning Point and Dove's Nest - 112 Gadsden St., 105 Cotton St., Chester, 803-581-0219

Utility providers also accept donations directly from power bills. These are used to help the needy keep service connected. Ask your provider about getting involved.

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