It should be reasonable to expect that if the area economic picture is growing brighter, the number of requests for help with food and shelter would not be increasing.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked that,’’ says Frank Fahrer, executive director of North Strand Helping Hand in Longs. The fact is, the economy is not better for everyone. Since the first of the year, Fahrer’s organization has helped approximately 1,700 more individuals with food than during the same period last year.
His agency is just one in the area dealing with the problem of growing needs. Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach and CAP in Conway also both show increased numbers of food clients in October.
Food is a part of the assistance provided by three Helping Hand organizations (North Strand, Myrtle Beach, South Strand) and CAP (Churches Assisting People) in Conway. They also help folks with utility bills, rent and clothing and are among the basic needs nonprofits of the United Way of Horry County. For North Strand, the total of “assistance records’’ as of Nov. 20 was 12,745 households, up from 10,877 in 2012.
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It’s worth noting that dozens of area churches, and untold numbers of volunteers from those congregations, are the core support for these nonprofits. CAP has 33 congregations, large and small. Volunteers have been coordinating about 150 Thanksgiving meals that will be distributed Tuesday. “Bags are stacked to the ceiling,’’ says Gail Steinfield, the veteran director of CAP.
At North Strand, 300 Thanksgiving packages will include a turkey, stuffing mix, canned vegetables and fresh sweet potatoes, provided by David Eaddy, who delivers the potatoes to Helping Hand. This year, out of concern for having an adequate volume of food, clients chose between receiving food for a Thanksgiving meal or a Christmas meal. Previously, people could have food for both holidays.
An AT&T retiree from New Jersey, Fahrer volunteered at North Strand Helping Hand and was the board treasurer before becoming executive director earlier this year.
The explanation for increasing numbers of requests for assistance is complicated and multifaceted, Steinfield says. While the overall economic situation has improved, “it’s not better at this level.’’
One of the factors is a cutback in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still referred to as “food stamps,” which got their name from the vouchers of many years ago.
Here’s one of the sad bottom lines of the so-called federal sequestration cutbacks. An elderly couple, perhaps getting by on only low-level Social Security payments, was eligible for $50 a month in SNAP; now the benefit is $35. It’s tough to imagine this result was the intention of even the most ardent proponents of cost-cutting.
“We’re trying hard to educate clients’’ on how to get by on less, but in some cases the reduction is larger than $15, says Steinfield.
The area’s seasonal tourism economy is another facet. Many low-paid service workers receive no unemployment benefits after their jobs end with the tourist season, but they have slim chances of finding another job until they are called back in the spring.
“It’s an awful situation,’’ Steinfield says.
And it is a stark reminder of the need for community support of the nonprofits that daily help so many Grand Strand neighbors who struggle for basic food and shelter. These are not “entitlement” programs. These are neighbors and organizations struggling to do the right thing for the growing numbers of those in need.
We urge you to join them.