Debbie Vanover remembers when her cabinets were void of food. She can't forget when her refrigerator was empty.
And so was her wallet.
The single mother from Fort Mill wondered what she'd do for food. But she didn't go hungry, thanks to the Fort Mill Care Center.
"Someone told me about the care center," Vanover said. "All you can do is say, 'Thank God' for places like that."
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Vanover and 84 other Fort Mill bus drivers found a way to give back to the care center that's always giving to others.
"The way the economy is down, a lot of people are suffering," Marc Vigeant, assistant transportation supervisor, said. "We thought, 'How can we help the community?'"
The bus drivers anchored a truck -- normally used to haul furniture -- in the Bi-Lo parking lot around 7 a.m. Saturday. Then for 12 hours, they collected nonperishable food and toiletries for the care center.
And Fort Mill residents stepped up and helped out.
Kristal Whitmire and daughter, Amilyah, stopped by the store for some groceries.
"Not everybody has food," Amilyah, 7, said after she dropped a bag of groceries for the care center in a shopping cart.
Moments later, a lone man asked, "Y'all still collecting?"
Then he peeled off a $20 bill that a bus driver promptly dropped in a waiting black boot.
For Dawn Vanover, the food drive evoked memories of 20 years ago, when money was scarce.
"My mom had to use the care center when we were little," said Vanover, 28, a bus aid for the last three years. "My mom was struggling, but the Fort Mill Care Center helped us. I want to give back."
For more than 30 years the care center, established by Fort Mill churches, has helped those in need. From January to March, the care center has doled out 61,542 pounds of food, Jan Arnold, pantry chairperson, said.
"People have not forgotten that there are people in need," Arnold said. "I'm almost floored that donations are still coming in the door."
In February, 12,322 pounds of food was donated to the care center. Last month, 6,898 pounds of food was donated. By contrast, in February 2007, the care center took in 3,500 pounds of food. The next month, the center received 4,000, Arnold said.
"This year is three times as much," Arnold said of donations.
John Riggsbee, a four-year bus driver, turned out to help. Four hours later, he was still there.
"I believe in helping the community," he said. "This is where we work and live. Supplies are low everywhere. The food drive is a boost to the food shelter (Fort Mill Care Center) to help replenish them."
Several more people, including Sabrina Gast, a Fort Mill native who grew up to be York County's coroner, dropped groceries into the cart.
"Why did I give?" Gast asked. "It's the right thing to do. Those who can give need to do so."
No donation was too small that day, Vigeant said.
"Some people have just donated one can," he said. "There's a lot of people who donated just a dollar. Even if they don't have a lot to give, they're still contributing."
For the benefit of the care center.
"The care center has helped family and friends," said Patricia Fields, who retired last June after driving 17 years. "Anything I can do to help, I will."
And the need is great, especially at a time when unemployment peaked to 14.3 percent in February in York County, said Annie Reid of the South Carolina Employment Commission.
That's why people are stepping up, Linda Gordon said.
"We have a food pantry at our church so I know what it's like," said Gordon, who has driven for nine years. "People are in need. There's a lot of people out of work."
A grateful Debbie Vanover recalled a saving grace known as the Fort Mill Care Center.
"They've helped me and my family in times when we really needed help," she said.
And so 85 bus drivers and some giving residents raised the ante to help their neighbors, turning over 2,070 pounds of food as well as $670 and several gift cards, Arnold said.
"What the bus drivers did was absolutely incredible," Arnold said. "The bus drivers are at the bottom end of the pay scale. It was such a selfish thing they did."
Want to help?
Bus drivers will continue to accept nonperishable items and toiletries this week. Students can drop their donations in boxes placed on each bus today and Thursday. Donations also will be taken between 8:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. today and Thursday at the bus office at Fort Mill High School. For details, call Marc Vigeant at 802-1991.