After Hurricane Hugo struck South Carolina 21 years ago today, Barb Mains, her sister Aileen Page and Lee Dougherty "went out to do some volunteer work." What they found following that horrific storm, particularly the conditions many children were facing, resulted in the founding of Help 4 Kids.
Years after Hugo, the sisters are still working to improve the lot of children who otherwise would not have backpacks and other school supplies, winter coats or weekend meals. Miss Lee, as Mains calls her friend, moved from the area a year ago. "We miss her every day." Miss Lee worked as a Help 4 Kids volunteer 70 or 80 hours a week, Mains says.
"Things have gotten better, but children shouldn't have to live that way." Mains is emphatic that the children and families she and her dedicated volunteers help are hard-working people who have been caught up in a still-slow economy, who perhaps have lost their jobs or are working fewer hours. "I see people every week who don't know where their next meal is coming from or the gas to get to work," Mains says.
Hurricane Hugo, which had been a Category 5 storm, struck Charleston as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 21, 1989. Hugo caused $7 billion in damage as the 150-mile-wide storm tore inland. A total of 82 deaths were associated with the storm, which had the highest surge, 20 feet just north of Charleston, recorded on the East Coast of the United States.
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Backpack meals for the weekend are one of the major programs of Help 4 Kids. Before classes are dismissed on Fridays, individual servings of food are placed in the backpacks of children who otherwise might have little or nothing to eat until Monday at school. The food includes oatmeal, soup, Pop Tarts, mac and cheese and juice. Help 4 Kids is now providing 1,845 weekend meals at 14 schools, Mains says. Just prior to the start of school, she anticipated 1,000 meals a week, but the number is up with the addition of two schools.
A stunning number of Horry County Schools youngsters live in poverty, with 612 identified as homeless, according to Horry County Schools data. Over the summer, Help 4 Kids provided meals for 900 children.
For 10 years, Help 4 Kids operated as part of SOS Health Care but broke away, and since 2009 Help 4 Kids has been a community partner of the United Way of Horry County. Help 4 Kids has a $20,000 allocation from United Way, toward an overall budget of $250,000.
Mains is proud of the dedicated volunteers, about 100, many of whom have been with her for years. No one receives a salary or reimbursement for gasoline or other expenses.
"We're always in need of volunteers and snack supplies," individual servings for those backpack meals. By the way, the food is slipped into the backpacks when the children are out of the classroom, part of Mains' goal of having her kids in school but not feeling different. Whether financial assistance is from church groups, civic clubs or individuals, "we use what we get. We always get enough to do what we need to do. We have a lot of faith."