May 2020

The Heroes and the Helpers: COVID-19 brings out the Lowcountry’s best

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

A global pandemic doesn’t play favorites. Regardless of age, wealth or status, we’ve all been thrust into survival mode—every man for himself, fighting to stay alive. While some of us have resources to sustain us through this time of crisis, others do not. In addition to the challenge of protecting their health, many Lowcountry residents find themselves suddenly unable to meet their most basic needs, like keeping a roof over their head and putting food on the table.

Enter the heroes and the helpers.
While times of crisis and great need can bring out the worst in some people (those selfish toilet paper hoarders and inconsiderate beach congregators), more often than not, hard times bring out the best of humanity. Here in the Lowcountry, where we are known to rise to the occasion, there is no shortage of heroes and helpers. Some are performing essential jobs and bravely going that extra mile. Others are driven by a personal passion and a desire to give back to the community they call home, often working behind the scenes for no personal gain other than the satisfaction of making a difference.

Some of our most obvious heroes are our healthcare workers, first responders, civil service employees, farmers, grocery store employees, pharmacists, factory workers, delivery and public transportation drivers, journalists, and more. Yet others are going above and beyond to help people in need, many times with money out of their own pockets and at the expense of their personal safety. From businesses writing checks to charity even as they are forced to close their doors and restaurants offering free community dinners while adjusting their business models to individuals dropping off gift cards, groceries and other necessities at their neighbor’s front door, the outpouring of love here has been nothing short of amazing.

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On a Thursday afternoon in early April, Dave Peck, Hilton Head Island native and owner of A Lowcountry Backyard and Bad Biscuit restaurants on Hilton Head Island, was out shopping on behalf of a Bluffton family in need. He spoke matter-of-factly about his personal contributions and recent community outreach.

Calm on the surface but kicking to adjust the daily operations of his businesses, Peck looked beyond the obstacles and found opportunities to help others. Responding to an immediate need, he started by providing breakfast and lunch to elementary and high school students who were receiving free or reduced-price lunches prior to the school closings. He received many donations and was then able to extend the help to more families. At the restaurants, he decided to offer $5 lunches to laid-off food and beverage employees. Next, he hosted a free spaghetti supper, open to the public (for takeout only, of course).

“I believe in giving back to the community,” Peck said. “We’ve always made it a point to try to help people. When we hear about someone in need and find out that they are really in need, we just go for it.”

Somedays he’s tired and somedays he’s scared, Peck said, but when he lays his head on his pillow, he knows he has done something good for people. He’s not actively soliciting donations at this time, but he urges everyone to pitch in. “I would encourage people to donate what they can, whether it be food to a local food bank, money to a charity, or a gift card to someone you know has a need. Just help your neighbor as best you can.”

Leah and Ryan McCarthy, owners of Downtown Deli and Downtown Catering in Bluffton were also quick to spring into action. While scrambling to meet their own unique business and personal challenges, the couple started the Hungry Heart initiative—a fund to help supply meals to hospitality employees who are currently out of work. “If I go down in this, I’m going down helping people,” Leah said.

The McCarthys reached out to Lowcountry Strong, an organization founded when Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016, to help manage the funding. As of early April, they had partnered with 20 area restaurants between Hilton Head and Bluffton and six in Beaufort to participate on a rotating schedule. Lowcountry Strong receives the funds on behalf of Hungry Heart and distributes them to the restaurants that are providing meals to hospitality workers who are in need of a meal, Leah explained. “We don’t want anyone to have to choose between medicine for their kids or paying rent and dinner on the table.”

Every donation, no matter how small, can help. “For as little as $12, we can provide a meal,” Leah said. “That’s been a little more palatable for people who feel like they want to give something but don’t have the ability to write a big check. We’ve had some people and businesses give larger checks, but we have gotten a lot of little donations that have added up, which has been amazing.”

For Jean Heyduck, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry’s vice president of marketing and communications, helping people in need is not new. What is new is the intensity of the need at this time and the surge in organizations seeking support.

The Community Foundation is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization that works closely with local donors to address critical issues facing our region. In addition to continuing most of their normal work, which includes establishing funds, making grants, and awarding scholarships, the Community Foundation is meeting the current crisis head-on.

“We have a Disaster Relief and Recovery fund that we’ve had for a while, but it’s really geared more towards natural disasters like hurricanes. So, when this popped up, we knew we needed to do something, and we created the Lowcountry Community COVID-19 Response Fund,” Heyduck explained. The fund allows the foundation to rapidly deploy resources to community-based nonprofit organizations addressing the pandemic in Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.

In mid-March, the foundation issued a challenge to the community to donate $100,000 to the COVID-19 Response Fund, which the foundation promised to match. That goal was accomplished in 10 days. In early April, an additional $50,000 challenge was announced, with 100 percent of gifts going directly to support the fund’s mission.

According to Heyduck, this is only the beginning, and the foundation is working in phases. “This first phase is to address what is happening right now—food insecurity, housing insecurity, that sort of thing,” she said. “Three months from now, if there is still money in the fund and people are still in need, maybe it’s a different kind of need. We don’t know yet because we don’t know what’s going to happen, but our plan is to make sure that this is sustainable over the course of time.”

The Community Foundation serves as a linchpin to help organizations set up funds, Heyduck explained. “They can do the fundraising, and the money comes into a fund at the Community Foundation, then they can use that money based on their fund agreement. We take away all the administration for them, and they don’t have to have a 501©(3) IRS designation.”

Following is a list of funds launched by local organizations to address COVID-19. Each has a unique approach and mission and is working through the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry:

Camelot Limousine COVID-19 Relief Fund: A crowdfunding campaign that will be applied to the Lowcountry Community COVID-19 Response Fund. They will pick up prescriptions, groceries, take-out orders, etc., and, in lieu of payment, request that a donation to Lowcountry Community COVID-19 Relief Fund be made.

Community Strong – Club Outside: Donors can purchase a $250 membership that provides various benefits. Of the $250 fee, $100 goes directly to an Outside Employee relief fund to support Outside team members; $50 of each purchase will be donated to the Lowcountry Community Covid-19 Response Fund to assist local workers in need of financial support.

Hampton Hall Charitable Fund COVID-19 Support Drive: A crowdfunding campaign for residents and others to make donations that will be applied to the Lowcountry Community COVID-19 Response Fund.
Help 4 Hope: This fund will provide economic support to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their mission is to feed families affected by COVID-19, support local restaurants by generating new business, and save jobs in the food industry. Their goal is to raise $5,000,000.

Lowcountry Strong Foundation – Hungry Heart Restaurant Workers Relief Fund: Lowcountry Strong Foundation has partnered with Downtown Catering Company to serve free lunch and dinner, from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for hospitality workers who are currently out of work. One hundred percent of each donation goes directly to Hungry Heart.

USCB Education Foundation – Student Emergency Fund: This fund will provide support for students who are housing/food insecure and may not have internet accessibility or transportation, have academic or basic household needs during times of an unforeseen crisis or unexpected hardship.

This is but a glimpse of the kind of action being taken by individuals, businesses, and organizations who are providing relief to area residents. If you are not named here, don’t think for a minute your work is unappreciated. We wish to thank each and every one of our heroes and helpers for your contributions and care as well as all of our citizens for your generosity during this trying time.

The world as we knew it no longer exists. But what remains is an indomitable spirit that belies our love for one another and our strength as a community. Together, we can start a new pandemic—one of kindness, compassion and gratitude. May we emerge stronger than ever and with a greater appreciation of our freedoms and our many blessings. And let us never again take for granted the privilege of living another day. 

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