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HUNGER RATES SOAR AS THE JOBS FLY AWAY

Volunteer Darryl Todd loads a box of food for a client at The Turning Point, Chester's emergency food pantry, Wednesday. Harvest Hope Food Bank, the Columbia operation that fills the charity's pantries, hopes to set up additional food banks in Chester.
Volunteer Darryl Todd loads a box of food for a client at The Turning Point, Chester's emergency food pantry, Wednesday. Harvest Hope Food Bank, the Columbia operation that fills the charity's pantries, hopes to set up additional food banks in Chester.

CHESTER -- The hungry come to the small brick building at 112 Gadsden St. Some carry children in their arms. Others line the sidewalk when the tiny office is packed.

They come to The Turning Point's pantry because they know someone like Darryl Todd will fill a cardboard box with the cereal, rice or noodles to send home with them. Sometimes that's all they have to get by.

"I see a lot of people in need," said Todd, who started volunteering at The Turning Point in April.

The number of families looking for food at Chester County's charity pantries has skyrocketed this year. The county is grappling with the second-worst unemployment rate in the state, and the amount of hungry people has spiked as the amount of jobs has plummeted.

"The need has just really jumped because of jobs," said John Williams, director of The Turning Point, a nonprofit ministry that focuses on drug and alcohol abuse along with clothing and food programs for people in need.

The county has lost more than 4,000 jobs since 2002. The situation recently worsened when Springs Global closed the last of its South Carolina manufacturing plants in Fort Lawn and Lancaster County. About a third of those workers call Chester County home.

As jobs left the county, The Turning Point's pantry went from serving 20 families each month to 144 last month. The number once climbed as high as 180.

"I have seen days now when I do 30 families in a day," Todd said.

At Purity Presbyterian Church, the site of the Chester Ministerial Association's pantry, the situation is the same. The pantry served 121 people in September, 2006. Last month, 239 residents received food.

"Our pantry is probably half of what we had when I first came here back in February," said church secretary Laurie Roof. "It's just gone down, down, down."

Both pantries need donations of canned goods as well as staple items such as rice and noodles.

The Turning Point also needs volunteers to distribute the food, and the church pantry is seeking grocery carts to roll items to visitor's cars.

But anything helps.

"They don't have to feel like they've got to come bring a whole bag of groceries," Roof said. "If they have a couple extra canned goods or a thing of spaghetti ... just anything."

The Turning Point and Purity Presbyterian are two of the three pantries in Chester County that receive food from Columbia's Harvest Hope Food Bank, which provides food to pantries in 18 central-South Carolina counties.

There are other charity pantries in the county, but only those two and Mount Moriah Baptist Church use the food bank's resources.

Harvest Hope recently identified Chester as one of six counties in its coverage area that is "underserved," meaning not enough food is being distributed in the area, said Vermell Pyatt, a hunger/poverty data analyst with the food bank.

The number of Chester County families served by the food bank rose sharply from 204 families in 2005 to 1,395 families last year.

This week, Pyatt and colleague Henry Counts asked Chester County Council for help in fighting the local hunger problem.

Counts, who coordinates the agency's Kids Cafe program, said Harvest Hope wants to partner with county schools and churches to develop a local program where children can get meals after school.

Harvest Hope provides food at no cost, Counts said, but the agency needs a church or other nonprofit organization that has a facility and volunteers to serve hungry children.

Counts and Pyatt also presented a packet to county leaders asking that they consider advocating that churches in rural areas develop a pantry missions, encourage the sponsorship of summer school food programs and partner with the Department of Social Services to boost food stamp availability.

But there's not much the county can do financially, said County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey.

"We don't have money set aside for something like that," he said. "The only thing we can do is encourage them."

How to help

Here are two places to donate food or volunteer:

• Chester County Community Food Pantry, 135 Wylie St. An emergency pantry for area residents that is sponsored by the Chester Ministerial Association. Details, (803) 377-8175.

• Turning Point, 112 Gadsden St. A nonprofit organization that provides an emergency food pantry. Details, (803) 581-0219.

To start your own pantry or Kids Cafe? Call the Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia at (803) 254-4432.

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