Pandemic recession brings rise in visits to Baskervill Food Pantry
The Baskervill Food Pantry kept up with an increase in visits since the start of the pandemic, as businesses closed and jobs were lost. The pantry had 3,964 visits from March through December, up 31 percent over the same period in 2019.
“We’ve seen new people come who have said ‘I’ve never been to a food pantry before. I’ve never had to go to one,’ ” said Nancy Cave, a coordinator for the pantry.
Georgetown County already had 18.3 percent of its residents living in poverty before the pandemic, according to the Sisters of Charity Foundation, which lists food insecurity as one of the key measures of poverty. The county’s poverty rate was above the state and national averages.
The unemployment rate in the county spiked in April after the coronavirus pandemic reached South Carolina, with nearly 3,000 people out of work, according to the state Department of Employment and Workforce. By the end of the year just over 1,400 people were unemployed, about 400 more than prepandemic levels.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to help, but it still leaves the average family of four short about $450 a month in paying for food, according to the Sisters of Charity.
Many families using government assistance have to balance housing, transportation and food costs, Cave said. Some cut spending on food in order to pay other bills.
During the pandemic, “unemployment benefits have been cut and people have lost their jobs,” Cave said. “It’s not surprising that people run out of money.”
The pantry is a ministry of Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Episcopal Church and occupies a portion of the Smith Medical Clinic on the church campus. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon. First time clients have to register with some form of ID. Clients can receive food twice a month.
The pantry once let clients select food from its shelves in order to help maintain their dignity.
“Since COVID hit, nobody comes in,” said Dave Gustafson, a long-time volunteer. “When you make that fundamental change, it changes everything else.”
Volunteers now come to the pantry in the afternoon to pack paper grocery bags with food. During the pantry hours, clients receive a package of food at the door.
Each client gets four protein items, tomato sauce, four cans of vegetables, three kinds of pasta, four kinds of soups and meals, a carton of eggs, meat, fresh vegetables and a couple of additional items.
On a typical day 20 to 30 bags are handed out to clients, Gustafson said.
The increase in visits to the pantry has been met with an outpouring of community support through food and financial donations. Even with schools limited, one Waccamaw High School senior, Jacob Stump, organized a food drive.
The pantry also gets food from the Lowcountry Food Bank, which some of the pantry’s 40 volunteers pick up.
The pantry is also supported regularly by several area churches, including Pawleys Island Presbyterian, Pawleys Island Community, St. Peter’s Lutheran, St. Paul’s United Methodist and Precious Blood of Christ Catholic.
“We have been able to meet the need and we feel very fortunate,” Cave said.
Cave is not the only one feeling grateful. One client from Pawleys Island said she has been going to the Baskervill Food Pantry for two years after learning about it at the Smith Medical Clinic.
The client said the pantry has been very helpful and the volunteers who serve are kind. “They give you vouchers for your pet, and I have a dog and a cat,” the client added.
As the impact of COVID-19 is still being felt, client numbers at the pantry are expected to remain high or even increase.
The pantry hopes to partner with other organizations to get food to people without transportation, Cave said. They want to add additional food storage space. Currently, they have one small room to store and serve food and use the Parish House for storage. They hope to build a small storage space of their own onto the side of the pantry.
The Baskervill Food Pantry has been in operation for over 20 years. It started out serving a dozen families a week. After a year, it was serving 30.
The increase over the last year is the largest Cave has seen in her five years at the pantry. But she pointed out that the tradition of giving food to those in need at the church goes back farther than the Baskervill Food Pantry. It actually began when the property was given to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in the early 1900s, Cave said.
How to help
The Baskervill Food Pantry has a shopping list for people who want to donate.
Canned items: Fruit, low or no syrup; soup; meat, tuna, chicken, and low-sodium Spam; vegetables; spaghetti sauce.
Boxed or bagged: Pasta, rice, beans, grits, oatmeal, Cheerios.
In jars: Peanut butter, jelly.
The pantry does not accept juice boxes, cookies or food in glass containers.
The pantry accepts checks at P.O. Box 990, Pawleys Island, SC 29585 or online donations at holycrossfm.org.
To volunteer, contact the church office at 843-237-3459.