East Cooper Community Outreach pivots to expand food pantry due to pandemic; Promotes neighborhood food drives
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected thousands of individuals and families in the Lowcountry, many who live in East Cooper communities. With the sudden rise in unemployment and loss of income, East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO) has become an invaluable resource for food, financial assistance, and health care throughout this pandemic.
Uniquely positioned in the area as the only organization of its kind in the East Cooper community, ECCO provides comprehensive wrap-around support services to neighbors facing financial hardship. With ECCO’s holistic program approach, the organization is considered a “one-stop-shop” for families in financial distress to receive help filling a range of individual needs: food, medical care, dental care, financial assistance, prescription assistance, and more.
Throughout this pandemic, the number of families ECCO is serving through its Wellness Food Pantry has grown exponentially. In the month of May, ECCO distributed 1,144 pre-packaged food orders to 752 local families in need. As a means of comparison, in May of 2019, ECCO served around 354 families with food orders. With demand rising, the need for a large food supply was critical. The community has responded to this growth by donating over 40,080 pounds of food to the Wellness Pantry last month.
In order to create more space for the growing food supply, it became clear that a pivot in services was necessary. As a result, ECCO was forced to temporarily close its free Clothing Closet. This popular service for neighbors needing clothing, shoes, bedding, and towels normally serves hundreds of individuals each month. The decision was not taken lightly, but the leadership of ECCO believed it was necessary in order to meet the immediate needs of the community.
The space that the Clothing Closet once occupied has been transformed into a receiving area for food donations; tables are set up to sanitize all food donations before they are stocked on the Wellness Pantry shelves. Over the past three months, the workspace where all donated clothing was previously accepted and sorted has become a staging area for the assembly and distribution of prepackaged bags of food and hygiene kits. Shelving that once held bedding and towels now provides storage space for bags of food for those who do not live in ECCO’s service area but have arrived in search of help.
“We live in such a generous community”, said Executive Director Stephanie Kelley. “Words cannot express how grateful I am for the outpouring of support ECCO has received over the past 12 weeks making it possible to serve an increased number of our neighbors in need. While we all hope the worst of this pandemic is behind us, there are families who will be feeling the financial impact of this crisis for months and years to come. ECCO is counting on all those who are able to donate in order to keep our pantry shelves stocked and our neighbors fed.”
While the support throughout the pandemic has been great, so still is the need. To help meet that growing need, ECCO is challenging community members to make a direct impact by donating food to their Wellness Pantry. Currently, the greatest needs are:
• peanut butter and jelly
• canned soup
• canned pasta
• dry pasta
• personal hygiene products
• dish soap
• laundry detergent
Every single item donated goes directly into the hands of local neighbors in need. Donations can be dropped off at their location in Mount Pleasant, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 .pm. Financial donations towards these efforts can be made on their website at eccocharleston.org.
For those who are accustomed to donating their new and gently used clothing to ECCO, they ask that you please consider donating to local organizations like Palmetto Goodwill, Lowcountry Orphan Relief, and My Sisters House.
ECCO 30 Day, 30 Neighborhood Challenge
ECCO is also implementing a 30 day, 30 neighborhood challenge during the month of July. They challenging 30 neighborhoods to host a food drive to help ECCO fill the shelves of our food pantry.
You can sign your neighborhood up by sending a direct message on Facebook, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about ECCO’s services or how to get involved, please visit eccocharleston.org or call 843-849-9220 to speak with an ECCO team member.