Each week, a Bluffton man stands in the food line at Bluffton Self Help. I’m told that he can only take already prepared foods because he doesn’t have a microwave to heat a meal. “Maybe someone could donate a microwave,” I suggested naively. “No, he doesn’t have electricity, and he’s not the only one,” I’m told.
EVERYONE HAS A STORY.
The calls come in daily. Some have recently suffered from a health emergency or accident. There are clients who have lost their jobs and found another, yet their new job won’t start in time to pay the rent and utilities this month. There are working mothers seeking affordable child care. Others pay all their bills, leaving no money to feed their children. School is starting soon and there is no money for uniforms and basic supplies. These people live in Bluffton and they turn to Bluffton Self Help for assistance.
The organization began in 1987 when Mrs. Ida Martin, a long time Bluffton resident, recognized a need that was not being met among working families, disabled residents, and senior citizens in the Bluffton area. A determined Mrs. Martin founded Bluffton Self Help, working from her garage, with the mission to help working families and senior citizens when they suffered a financial crisis.
In over 20 years of operations, Bluffton Self Help (BSH) has grown along with the needs of the community, providing free food and clothing, assistance with rent and mortgages, emergency utility assistance, payments towards emergency lodging, home repairs, and help with medications. BSH’s Children’s Assistance Program works closely with the six social workers in the Bluffton schools to help the children of poverty stricken families with school uniforms, school supplies, and vision and hearing exams. Around the holidays, Self Help collects and provides Thanksgiving dinners to families in need. And they look to the community at Christmas to help make the Christmas dreams of children in our community come true.
To put things in perspective, in 2010, Bluffton Self Help provided 62,000 items of food to 11,600 people and provided clothing to almost 9,000 people. Additionally, BSH provided approximately $128,000 to 513 families for short-term emergency assistance. Staggering numbers.
THE NEED FOR A NEW HOME
Since 1996, Bluffton Self Help has operated from within a 1,000-square-foot facility that was the former town jail. Seriously, the storage closet still has bars on it. With a growing client base and community need, BSH has simply run out of room to adequately serve clients at the present facility.
Food and clothing is stored in rental storage units at other locations. Safety issues abound on food days as the perfect storm of long lines, a small parking lot, and trucks delivering food creates an unsavory environment for the clients in line to get food. In the month of June alone, 1,077 people stood in that line that snakes out amid the dirt parking lot, fronting May River Road, as morning traffic ambled by.
In the current small space, the staff struggles with lack of privacy for client interviews, an out-dated electrical system that often leads to refrigeration outages, and clients having to wait outside in the elements.
Things are about to change. Bluffton Self Help has purchased a larger facility located at 39 Sheridan Park Circle in Bluffton. The new building was purchased outright, with support from grants, foundations, corporations, and individuals who contributed to the building campaign. Renovations are already underway to make the 6,500-square-foot former tile showroom into an operationally adept space for Self Help. Nearly $300,000 remains to be raised. “With the closing of the new building, we are one giant step closer to bringing this very important community project to reality,” said Peter Bromley, president of the board. “Now, we officially launch phase two of our building campaign for renovation costs and for a 10-year utility endowment.”
The new building offers not only the ability to be more operationally efficient, but new possibilities and program options for clients. The meeting room will no longer also serve as the interview room, the food pantry, and the clothing, Thanksgiving meal, and Christmas toy distribution space. A much larger pantry will enable BSH to have all food on site. Three interview areas will provide privacy for clients and allow BSH to introduce Benefit Bank, an online processing service to file for eligibility for state and local programs such as SNAP (food stamps), child care assistance, federal tax return filing, medical assistance for medication and equipment, educational grants, income assistance and voter registration. Loading docks with separate entrances will be ready and waiting for Second Helpings food deliveries and other delivery trucks. This larger area will also make it possible for BSH to participate with the local food bank, offering a considerable savings in providing food and supplies to our clients. Storage space abounds for off-season clothing and holiday toys, whereas in the past, BSH couldn’t begin the Christmas toy collection until after Thanksgiving.
Of all of the plans, Bromley said, “These improvements are not ‘nice-to-have’ improvements but are ‘need to have’ necessities. At the current site, clients are lining up in the summer heat during food distribution days; food delivery trucks have limited space to drop off food, and there is cramped space for conducting day-to-day business. These are just a few of the challenges the current location poses.”
Soon enough, Self Help will move into their new home—November 1 is the target date. Until then, it is business as usual, in the old jail, at 1264 May River Road. Come November, Bluffton Self Help will have a new home, but their mission will remain the same as they get down to the business of helping those who need it most.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
•Learn more about Bluffton Self Help and the Sustaining Hope Building Campaign by visiting www.blufftonselfhelp.org
•Are you in the building biz? The building campaign wish list includes materials and service items that you, or someone you know, may be able to provide: plywood, wood trim, paint, dry wall, bathroom hardware, interior doors, shelving, carpet, etc. The list goes on and on. If you can assist, call (843) 757-8000.
•Write a big check. Yes, cash donations are also welcome.
• Spread the word.
A STORY OF HOPE
Maribeth’s daughter was born with sickle cell anemia. After years of learning about and living with the disease, Maribeth thought her daughter’s condition and health care were manageable. Suddenly, at four years old, her daughter developed horrible and large open sores all over her torso and thighs. After several doctor’s visits, there was still not a clear diagnosis. After even more doctor’s visits, Maribeth lost her job due to excessive absences. With funds drying up and bills continuing to come in, finally a diagnosis was discovered. Maribeth’s small child had chronic sickle cell ulcerations and required several days in the hospital, intravenous antibiotics and extensive follow-up care. Maribeth handled it beautifully, but still there were no paychecks coming in, and the bills were piling up. There would simply not be enough money for upcoming rent. Maribeth came to BSH with pictures of her daughter’s ulcerated body and excessive doctor’s notes. BSH quickly learned that her daughter would make a full recovery. Maribeth was assisted with her rental payment and was referred to a local non-profit employment service organization. She attended the employment workshops and, after one week, secured a full-time position and arranged child care with a family friend. Three months later, both mom and daughter are doing well.