Years after 'retirement,' Martin still lending hand to Bluffton community

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Years after 'retirement,' Martin still lending hand to Bluffton community

Bluffton Self Help founder fondly remembered, still volunteering

Published Friday, December 24, 2010   |  665 Words  |  

Ida Martin stepped down as director of Bluffton Self Help six years ago, but the organization's 83-year-old founder never really retired.

As long as people knock on the door of her Bruin Road home, Martin will answer calls for help.

She still makes regular visits to Bluffton Self Help's headquarters on May River Road to pass along requests from people most comfortable dealing with her or to tell of the needs she still sees every day in the community.

"I never turn anybody down," she said. "When somebody calls, I've got to go because somebody needs me."

Martin founded the organization in 1987 and ran it from her garage for many years. She came from a family who taught the importance of giving, and she was surprised there were no organizations in town to help the working poor, the infirm or the elderly.

The lack hit home when a single mother and her children moved in across the street, and Martin saw the family had a single bottle of water in the refrigerator.

When she brought over bags of groceries and goodies for the kids, one of the girls whispered in her ear, "Could you please buy us toilet tissue?"

Before long, she was fielding more requests.

"The word got around," she said. "When you do good, people will find out about you."

She began soliciting donations, recruiting friends and putting boxes for canned goods near church doors in town. Local attorney Roberts Vaux drew up a charter and the organization officially launched.

Charitable work remains her passion.

This holiday season, Martin personally handed out more than 50 baskets of ingredients for Thanksgiving meals, mainly to senior citizens on tight budgets or unable to leave their homes. She said she expected to deliver just as many bags of toys this Christmas season.

Peter Bromley, the president of Bluffton Self Help's board of directors, said Martin's commitment to helping others remains strong throughout the year.

"She's the face and the heart of Bluffton Self Help," he said. "I hope I have her energy when I'm her age."

Last year, volunteers logged 22,000 requests for service, from assistance with utility bills to clothing and groceries. Bluffton Self Help, now run by a paid director, is on pace to break that record this year.

Martin laid the groundwork for the organization with a focus that was, at first, more modest in scope -- often, she personally knew the people down on their luck she was trying to help.

Over the years, Martin has seen homes with caved-in roofs, beds with entire families huddled together to sleep and young people without the proper clothes to wear to job interviews.

She says she is privileged to have a chance to help them.

Even as Bluffton has swelled with newcomers, Martin's efforts have not been forgotten. Last spring, Mayor Lisa Sulka declared March 5 Ida Martin Day, and she was feted with a banquet. Early this month, she was named grand marshal of the annual Bluffton Christmas Parade.

Martin eagerly awaits construction of Bluffton Self Help's new building, a long-time plan now in motion after the town agreed to donate land for a facility six times the size of the current one. Martin said she hopes the new headquarters will have enough space to allow the group to accept donated furniture it can give away, a service it cannot provide at the current cramped location.

"I'd really like to see the day they start to build it," she said. "And I hope people who love it the way I do will keep it going after I'm long gone."