“When I moved there, there was nothing in the Town of Bluffton, it was a very small town and there was not even a filling station, there was not even a bank where you could put your money, not anything. So I saw the need. And people started coming to me and asking for things and I started giving it to them. And then one day I followed a young family home who did not have anything …. in their refrigerator, they only had one bottle of water and five little girls. I went out and purchased groceries for them and really it started right from there, from that one family.”
Mrs. Ida Martin, 1923 — 2013
In 1986, Bluffton’s Ida Martin opened a nearly empty refrigerator in the home of a single mother with five children and immediately filled it and that’s how her dream for a better future for her community began.
Martin got on the phone with leaders of Bluffton churches that were providing charitable services to bring their work under one umbrella. That small act of kindness also began to fill a hole in the Bluffton community. People needed help, but there was no single organization to pull it together. Ida Martin recognized a great need that was not being met for working families and senior citizens in the area, and so began Bluffton Self Help, which was chartered a year later in October of 1988. The name Bluffton Self Help fit the organization’s mission, and it fit the woman who got it going and helped it keep pace with Bluffton’s incredible growth, particularly over the past several decades. As the town and surrounding area boomed, so did the need for emergency financial help, food, and clothing.
Initially working out of her garage, Mrs. Martin obtained resources from family and friends and sometimes went door to door. Clothing was donated and food was obtained by driving to the grocery stores on Hilton Head Island and picking up outdated food items.
From her garage, Bluffton Self Help moved to the barely 900 square foot old police station on Highway 46 in Old Town Bluffton, and eventually to over 6500 square feet in Sheridan Park.
Martin retired as director in 2005, but never left the organization, continuing to serve on the board and help connect the group to the community. One of Mrs. Ida Martin’s key strengths was her ability to recognize that no matter how down and out someone might be, they still deserve our respect and care as one of God’s children.
“She reminded us that as Bluffton has grown and developed, there is another Bluffton that is still there that needs help,” said John Orth past vice board chair. “She told us not to give things away just for the sake of giving them away but give them with a piece of your heart so the dignity of the person getting them is preserved.”
Her work did not go unnoticed. In 2012, she received the Alice Glenn Doughtie Good Citizenship Award from the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and was placed on the town of Bluffton’s Wall of Honor.
Most notably, in 2011, she received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Barack Obama at the White House. The nation’s second-highest civilian honor recognizes Americans who perform “exemplary deeds of service.” Click here to see Mrs. Ida talk about how it all got started.
We could never find another Mrs. Ida Martin, but fortunately, we were touched by an angel with Mrs. Martin, and the community is better for it.