Bluffton Self Help caps year of changes by helping more people than ever

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From the Island Packet:
Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It’s been a year of exciting firsts at Bluffton Self Help.

The group bought a new building soon after hiring executive director Lili Coleman.

Founder Ida Martin, who launched the organization from her garage in 1987, received a Presidential Citizens Medal — and a hug — from President Barack Obama.

But some things haven’t changed since the nonprofit agency relocated this month to Sheridan Park, in a space six times the size of its former headquarters.

Bluffton Self Help is on pace to break records for the second consecutive year for the number of people it provides with food, clothing and financial assistance.

The largest increase in need has been groceries, with 29 percent more people receiving food from January through October compared to the same time last year, for a total of 11,056 people, according to board president Peter Bromley.

The demand has been so great that the group now distributes food twice on Wednesdays — once in the mornings, as it traditionally has, and again from 4 to 6 p.m. That’s in addition to its other regular food days on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. More than 150 people might ask for the food delivered by Second Helpings on a typical day.

“We discovered some workers couldn’t stand in line in the mornings, but they still needed to put food on the table,” Coleman said of adding the Wednesday afternoon slot.

The need for emergency financial assistance increased by 10 percent, to 793 people, for the first 10 months of the year over last year. About 6,244 people have received clothing from the organization, an increase of 16 percent from the same time last year, Bromley said.

“There were some concerns when we moved to a new location that people might have a hard time finding us,” Bromley said. “We closed our doors in the old building on a Friday, opened up in a new building on a Monday and haven’t skipped a beat.”

The group plans to launch projects in the new building aimed at making people who need its help more self-reliant. Coleman said Bluffton Self Help is in talks with The Deep Well Project — a Hilton Head Island-based, nonprofit social services agency — to offer classes and programs ranging from nutrition to using coupons.

Coleman also is an expert at helping clients apply for state benefits, Bromley said.

The organization has needs of its own. It is still paying off the new building, which was purchased with money from grants, foundations and a capital campaign drive. It needs to raise another $170,000 to pay off renovations and begin a utility endowment, Bromley said.

Its greatest need is for volunteers, especially as it takes on a toy drive for children 17 and under in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties, Coleman said.

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