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Lowcountry organizations working to help those impacted by the economy

By Mindy Lucas

Some of the area’s leading social service organizations are stepping up to help those who have been impacted by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak.

The lack of food or consistent access to enough food and money to pay for housing or rent are two of the most critical issues facing those in need right now, organization leaders said.

“Those are probably the biggest followed by kids on free and reduced lunch,” said Chris Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.

The nonprofit works to raise and provide funds to organizations in Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper Counties.

The economic consequences of closures and layoffs due to the virus have caused a great deal of instability for both children and families, whether it’s in the form of summer programs for kids that have been cancelled or added stresses in the home, Kerrigan said.

“So how do we as a community fill that gap?” he said.

The foundation recently created the Lowcountry Community COVID-19 Response Fund and established a $100,000 “challenge match.”

The organization was able to match that amount in the first seven days, Kerrigan said. The foundation’s board is also working to approve another $50,000 for a second match and as of Thursday, April 9, expected to surpass that goal, Kerrigan said.

“We’re still counting,” he said.

The first phase of funding will go to those organizations in the nonprofit’s four-county service area that are helping individuals and families meet basic needs such as food, housing and healthcare.

It isn’t the first time the Community Foundation has stepped up in times of crisis, Kerrigan said. In 2004, the foundation created the Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding Fund, which would go on to play a critical role in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew hit the Lowcountry.

After Matthew, the foundation awarded more than $220,000 in grants to nonprofits helping individuals get back on their feet.

“This (funding initiative) is certainly surpassing that,” Kerrigan said, adding that, unlike a hurricane, which often causes the country to rally around an effected community, this has hit everywhere. 

Because of that communities have been left to struggle to meet their own individual needs. 

“This is a brave new world for us all,” he said. “People have to be able to cover their basic needs. You can’t think of anything else if you’re hungry, or if the lights are turned off.”

At Help of Beaufort in Port Royal, Lori Opozda, the non-profit’s executive director, echoed that assessment saying that she and her staff noticed the impact of the coronavirus outbreak around mid-March.

“We started seeing an increase in the number of new clients and the number of unemployed people coming in,” she said.

The organization is used to helping those in need, but the effects of the virus on the community have been unprecedented, Opozda said.

“We are seeing those from the service industry – waitresses, hostesses – and all the other businesses that have had people to get their hours cut,” she said. “It’s affected all walks of life.”

In addition, HELP of Beaufort – which provides free clothes and food through its food pantry – has started seeing whole families in need as opposed to individuals which had been more the norm.

“The community has really come together to keep food on the pantry shelves,” she said.

The organization has also seen a 30 percent increase in volunteers, an increase Opozda attributes in part to the new location on Ribaut Road. Just being in a more visible location has given the organization more exposure, she said.

In addition, many of the new volunteers are those who have recently lost jobs or had their hours cut, she said.

“We’re going get through it,” she said. “But it just takes time and it takes the whole community to get through it.”