MANNING - More than 15,000 Clarendon County residents were served by United Ministries of Clarendon County in 2016. In the first eight months of 2017, 9,089 individuals have received food, clothing or prescription assistance from the organization.
"Sometimes we make the difference in some families going to bed hungry," said Kathy Bryce, executive director for UMCC. "We're seeing more and more people who are telling us their kids are hungry. I've had people crying telling me they've never had to seek help like this before. It will tear your heart out to hear them."
The number of people asking for help in Clarendon County is staggering, she said.
Just during August, UMCC served 246 clients, of which 22 were new clients. The 246 clients equated to 444 family members. Of the 246 clients seen in August, 203 needed clothing, 72 needed medical vouchers, and 240 clients/663 family members were assisted through the mobile food banks.
The mobile food banks are coordinated through Harvest Hope by UMCC volunteer Hal Lowder.
"He contacts churches in the county and other charitable organizations who then let their congregations and neighbors know when and where the mobile food banks will arrive," Bryce said. "Harvest Hope then sends the food to those areas."
Bryce said individuals hoping to receive food items need to fill out an Emergency Food Form to receive the free food. The form also is needed when people seek assistance at UMCC, she added. Individuals receiving food can re-apply every three months. Those seeking clothing can re-apply after six months, and those needing medical vouchers can re-apply for a $100 voucher annually.
The generous donations from local individuals, businesses, civic groups and organizations and churches can only stretch so far, she added.
Bryce said UMCC was "blessed" when the United States Postal Service held its food drive in May.
"(The U.S. Postal Service) helped us out tremendously, but now we're getting low on a lot of things," she said. "It doesn't last long when you see the numbers of people who we see every week."
While UMCC relies on the donations of fruits and vegetables for area gardeners and farmers, the organization also spends money to acquire the necessary items needed on a weekly basis, she added.
"We got a lot of fresh squash and tomatoes this past summer, but we need more than we have donated," she said. "We purchase food from Harvest Hope (in Florence), and it costs us just cents on the dollar. We can buy 2,000 pounds of food items, and it will cost us between $80 and $100. We go twice a month, and it usually gets us by."
Bryce said that UMCC also receives a lot of free food items from Harvest Hope when they have extra items.
"We've gotten free eggs, fruit, bread but we don't know until we get there if they have the free items," she said. "It's great when they do."
Bryce said that the UMCC volunteers pack the boxes with nutritional food items, including canned and fresh fruit, vegetables and canned and frozen meats.
Individuals wanting to contribute to the pantry at UMCC are asked to donate staples, including flour, rice, grits, dried beans, canned vegetables and meats as well as diapers and baby food for families with young children. Bryce said that one area that is often overlooked is person items.
"We need donations of toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toilet paper and soap for washing clothes," she said. "We can use anything that a typical family would use."
Bryce said volunteers to help with stocking the pantry are also needed.
"I have a great staff, but we could always use more hands," she said.
For more information about how you can help, call Bryce at (803) 435-8096 or visit her at UMCC, 113 N. Church St., Manning from 9 a.m. until noon each Tuesday and Thursday.
"It really tears your heart out to see so many families in this area needing help just to put food on the table," she added. "Your donations can help prevent families from going to bed hungry."