Friday morning, an army of more than 200 volunteers descended on the Carolina Forest Recreation Center for breakfast before being dispatched to several locations around the Grand Strand as part of the United Way of Horry County’s annual Day of Caring, which also kicks off the fundraising season for the organization.
Volunteers and United Way staffers made themselves visible and useful by pitching in at community partner sites like the Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach, Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach, North Strand Helping Hand, two shelters under the umbrella of New Directions of Horry County, the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club in Conway and others.
The community outreach ran the gamut from sprucing up, mulching, painting, stripping and waxing floors to building bookcases, shelving and tables to computer work – all in a dizzying four hours.
United Way marketing and communications coordinator Meredith Millen said that more than 300 volunteers signed up for the event, which covered nine locations.
“At Community Kitchen, Santee Cooper took on two projects there as their pet projects,” she said, adding that 60 of their employees volunteered there.
Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach and Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach share the same building. The bulk of the work at Community Kitchen fell into the realm of duct repair work, pressure washing, painting and waxing floors. An office was recently converted into a pantry, and a new shelving unit went in as well.
“At Helping Hand, they created a kids’ corner – they built bookshelves, and a lot of people in in the community donated books for kids to read while they are there. They also built a new table to display some of the foods that they give away,” Millen said.
According to Millen, volunteers were also on hand at A Father’s Place in Conway. At SOS Healthcare in Myrtle Beach, folks helped with computer work.
“It’s all skill levels. We also had volunteers doing things like going around taking pictures and delivering lunches from Publix,” she said.
Grand Strand Medical Center provided breakfast.
Seventy-Five volunteers attended a party at Ocean Lakes Campground for Horry County Disabilities and Special Needs.
“They had about 200 special needs children and adults, and our volunteers went out and played Cornhole with them and did games and crafts,” she said.
United Way of Horry County 2016 board chair Lisa Bourcier is also the public information director for Horry County Government. She has been a board member with the organization for nearly 15 years.
“I think it’s important that all these volunteers come out and look and see what the agencies do,” she said. “A lot of people have heard about these agencies, but they don’t know where they are located or necessarily what they do, so when they come here they are actually meeting some of the clients that are served by these agencies and actually seeing what they do.”
According to Bourcier, this gives volunteers – from businesspeople to retirees – an up-close-and-personal look at the levels of need in the community.
“You never think you will need the services that the United Way offers, but sometimes you find yourself in situations where you do – whether your house gets burned down and you need assistance from the Red Cross, or you have a family member that gets assaulted and needs counseling – or financial trouble or what have you – there are circumstances that you don’t necessarily think that you will need that a lot of times you will end up needing in the future,” she said.
The fundraising goal for this year is $1.325 million. As of now, she estimates that United Way of Horry County has hit a little over $300,000, or 28 percent of that goal.
Volunteer Tiffany Nichols of Santee Cooper was on hand at the Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach, and said 65 volunteers were involved in several projects.
“We did duct work, pressure washing – and mainly a lot of cleanup that they don’t get – a good deep clean, paint touch-up – window cleaning, scrubbing floors – and we refinished the floors and painted some walls,” she said, adding that breakfast was a nice kickoff.
Nichols is also on the United Way committee at Santee Cooper.
She was asked about what makes people want to support the United Way.
“They help so many different organizations,” she said. “It’s not just your money going into one place. They help everyone in the community.”
Fellow Santee Cooper employee Todd Marshall is also a volunteer as well as a United Way coordinator.
“Santee Cooper has a core of about six or eight coordinators that host meetings to try to get people to volunteer and donate to the United Way of Horry County,” he said.
Marshall said he always felt strongly about the United Way and saw the coordinator task as a good way to get more involved.
He did work Friday at Myrtle Beach Haven, the family shelter under the umbrella of New Directions of Myrtle Beach – helping to strip and wax floors and repainting walls. At peak, there were 25-30 volunteers on hand there.
Marshall said the United Way makes it easy for him to donate.
“I have donated through payroll deductions, and it goes out to help the 40-plus agencies in the community – and I don’t have to worry about it. I know they are handling my money well and that it is helping the most people,” he said.
Volunteer work helps him to see who he is helping and where his money is going.
“It’s to a good cause – and a lot of times we see some of the clients and they thank us, and that makes it extra special,” he said.
For the agencies that benefit from the United Way, this is extra special indeed.
Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach executive director Tina Shuppy said the United Way is a wonderful partner.
“Of course, they do a great job of helping the community and we are so fortunate to be a partner agency with them. They support us all year long, but once a year they to the Day of Caring,” she said.
Shuppy said that the organization asks her if there is anything specific Helping Hand might need, above and beyond the obvious financial support.
“The special thing about this is that there are so many things that we might want, like the bookshelves for the children here or the new shelving for the produce table – and those are things that we don’t want to spend money on because we want our money to go directly to client needs,” she said. “We weigh whether we should spend the money on that, or on electric bills or rent – and of course we choose to spend it on the electric and the rent for our clients.”
This is the magic of the Day of Caring.
“When it comes around once a year and they have got other people that can join and just donate their time and their materials – it’s a win-win for all of us,” Shuppy said. “We are so excited to get these new things that we need and go forward.”
Next door at the Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach, executive director Deacon Peter M. Casamento said that the Day of Caring is probably one of the biggest examples of the hands-on help that his organization receives from United Way.
“Whatever we need, they always seem to pull through, and every person that works out there – every person that gets attracted to the United Way has a caring heart – and that’s what we have here,” he said.
Casamento said that the passion and the mission of Community Kitchen is simply to feed the hungry, but it goes beyond that.
“In January, I started the emergency clothing room, which now we clothe those who are in need – and I have a greater vision, but I need more real estate to be able to do it,” he said.
He said he would like to have locker rooms where the homeless can take showers – along with washers and dryers for them to clean the clothes they are given. And he would like to be able to have a literacy program in place for adults and children. A second part of the program he envisions would include classes for employment skills.
“So our whole mission is this: We feed them, we clothe them and give them the ability to have that pride and dignity in themselves – and to be able to go out into the world, get a job and then pay it forward,” he said.
Casamento said that we all make poor decisions, and that any one of us could easily wind up on a food line.
“In correlation to our relationship with United Way – they recognize what we do. They believe in what we do, and they want to be partners with us because we really fulfill what their vision is of helping the people of Horry County,” he said.