Letters to the Editor

Helpers Vital for Pantries

Part two of two:

An hour before North Strand Helping Hand opened Friday, Andy Welden of Little River unloaded boxes of produce at the distribution center on Long Bay Road. He was ready to drive his small white pickup to another Food Lion grocery and return with produce, meat, bakery goods - whatever the stores have. Welden says he hauls about 600 pounds of food every Friday. He's been a Helping Hand volunteer for three or four years. He started after he met another volunteer at Ocean Drive Presbyterian Church in North Myrtle Beach.

"When he's out of town, we scramble on Fridays," says Margaret Owens, executive director of North Strand Helping Hand. Welden is one of the many volunteers who regularly donate their time at area food pantries. Three Helping Hand centers and Churches Assisting People in Conway and other assistance nonprofits such as the community outreach of St. Delight Church in Little River are desperately low on food. Shortages are typical in summer months but have hit earlier this year, even, as Adrian Weatherwax of Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach says, with the godsend of the "Extreme Makeover" drive.

Last week, Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach was out of macaroni and cheese. Counselor Lisa Buie, previously a volunteer for 16 years, says it was the first time she could recall not having mac and cheese. Buie purchased the staple from a gift of $1,000 designated for food. Buie, who now works at Helping Hand, 1411 Mr. Joe White Ave., first started volunteering when Helping Hand was in "an old pink building across from the police station." Buie was matched with Helping Hand through First Presbyterian Church recruitment of volunteers. The church is one of seven founding Myrtle Beach churches represented on the Helping Hand board. The others are First United Methodist, First Baptist, Trinity Episcopal, St. Andrews Roman Catholic, St. Philip's Lutheran and Ocean View Baptist. "We have great groups that do food drives," Buie says, including Community Church of Myrtle Beach, Providence Park and the city police department.

Susan Ramsey, another 16-year volunteer, is a member of First United Methodist. She has "always worked the front desk" interviewing people who come in for help, which may mean assistance with rent or utilities as well as food. Ramsey volunteers three hours a week. She describes the need for volunteers at all nonprofits: "There are not a lot of people on the payroll." Earlier Tuesday, Harriett Rivers of Myrtle Beach was interviewing two young women who spoke little English. Rivers has been a volunteer at Helping Hand for about two years, starting after she lost a job as an administrative assistant. She says she wanted to help and her church, Sandy Grove Missionary Baptist, supports Helping Hand. She is retired from a career in Michigan nonprofits, last working there as development and education manager. Rivers regularly volunteers three hours on Mondays but also is on standby. She says she likes the interaction with clients, overlooking the fact that "we are cussed out often."

These are a few of the individuals who regularly volunteer at two Helping Hand operations. They are among hundreds of men and women who keep nonprofits going and part of the army of church members, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, school children, service clubs and neighborhoods who collect food, make cash donations and show big hearts in other ways.