Agencies hustle to keep needy residents warm and fed as temperatures plummet

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Agencies hustle to keep needy residents warm and fed as temperatures plummet

By CASSIE FOSS cfoss@islandpacket.com 843-706-8125
Published Tuesday, January 5, 2010   |  532 Words  |  news

Local shelters, food pantries and charities have braced for the cold -- and an onslaught of pleas from needy families and individuals for help with electric bills, food and a warm place to sleep.
As wind chills continue to dip into the teens overnight, officials are focusing on protecting people from the cold.
"There are more and more homeless people coming in looking for shelter," said the Rev. Nannette Pierson, director of Hilton Head Island's Sandalwood Community Food Pantry Resource Center. "It goes so unnoticed."
When the center opened in February, it served five families, she said.
Since then, more than 350 families have been given food and clothing. The program serves 50 to 60 families from noon to 2 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday.
Pierson said the center helped find shelter for a married couple who had been forced to sleep on the beach for three nights. Both had been laid off, and the husband eventually found a job.
Pierson said if someone doesn't have a place to sleep, she'll find them one.
Temperatures are about 20 degrees below average for Beaufort County, and there is no sign the cold weather will let up before the weekend, said Pete Mohlin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston. Daytime highs will in the 40s through the week.
There is also a 30-percent chance of snow on Thursday, Mohlin said.
Emily Bugay, executive director of Family Promise of Beaufort County, said the program has received more calls than usual this week from families living in their cars or needing a warm place to stay.
"The cold weather presents a different set of challenges that homeless or impoverished families in the area aren't used to," Bugay said. "We had a family call this week who were staying in a place that didn't have any heat."
Family Promise, a transitional housing program, provides emergency shelter to homeless families and creates a financial plan to get them back on their feet.
According to a March count by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development done every two years, 23 people are homeless in Beaufort County.The Beaufort Salvation Army also had a rise in requests this week for help with coats, blankets and heat assistance, said Kenny Griffin, executive director for the branch.
"We've had more people come to us who have never had to ask for help before," Griffin said.
Requests for help with utility bills and rent jumped 20 percent over this time last year, he said.
Although the Beaufort branch does not have an overnight shelter, Griffin said the organization can provide a bus ticket to Salvation Army shelters in Charleston or Savannah. If necessary, the organization can provide temporary emergency shelter at a hotel, he said.
"There's a need for a shelter, especially in weather like this," he said.
Jenny Haney, executive director of Bluffton Self Help, said the nonprofit has been deluged with requests to fill propane gas tanks and help with utility bills.
"Even if they don't meet our exact criteria -- we're not going to let them go cold," Haney said.