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Most of the people who turn to The Deep Well Project for help don't have tragic stories to tell, executive director Betsy Doughtie said.
Instead, they're families on tight budgets for whom an unexpected expense -- a car repair, for example -- means they can't pay this month's electricity bill or afford this week's groceries.
The most common story Deep Well volunteers hear during the holiday season is from workers whose hours have been cut.
"Those little daily disasters make all the difference," Doughtie said.
The nonprofit organization has helped 2,497 people so far this year. That's an increase from 1,784 people who requested assistance during the same period in 2010.
Deep Well has had to dip into its savings several times to provide for them all, Doughtie said. This year, its budget is $685,600, down from $689,000 in 2010.
The charity, a United Way agency, draws about half of its budget from its annual Christmas fundraiser called the Empty Well. The Island Packet publishes a list of all donations to the Empty Well through the holidays.
Those donations help the charity provide toys, furniture, medication and assistance with rent, utility payments and home repairs.
Help with electric bills is still the most requested assistance. Cold winters and hot summers have led to high bills for elderly residents living in poorly insulated homes on a fixed income, Doughtie said.
Food also has been needed this year. The organization has a limit of four grocery deliveries every six months but has gone beyond it to help needy families -- especially since the closure of Department of Social Services offices on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton, Doughtie said. Those offices once helped families apply for food stamps.
This holiday season, the organization is providing more Thanksgiving meals for local families than ever.
Deep Well has prepared 165 dinners in addition to about 230 dinners sponsored by churches and other organizations through an "adopt-a-family" holiday meals program. The requests keep coming, Doughtie said.
Deep Well's clients must prove need before receiving assistance. The organization also has limits on the other types of help it gives. It will pitch in for rent, electricity or gas payments once a year.
Homeowners who receive repairs from Deep Well's Livable Housing program are encouraged to pay the organization back, as long as they can do so within their means.
Program director Rita Jones said she and six volunteers are installing ramps and widening doors for a woman whose legs were amputated.
The Livable Housing volunteers work Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the year, along with about 30 other regulars.
During the holiday season, the number of volunteers -- or "elves," as Doughtie calls them -- swells to about 100. They keep busy delivering meals and packaging toys for children who would otherwise go without.
The generosity of Deep Well donors also hits overdrive, Doughtie said.
"The community is still very giving, even with the continuing (economic) downturn," Doughtie said.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.