The Lowcountry Food Bank looks and feels like a Sam's Club.
In this North Charleston warehouse there are aisles of food, with forklifts maneuvering box crates of Cheerios, peanut butter, and 20-ounce bottles of Lipton green tea. Semis adorned with grocery store logos back up to the building, unloading overstocked, damaged, or near-expired food items for the food bank to inspect, sort, and redistribute to any of the 320 faith-based and nonprofit agencies that annually feed 154,000 South Carolina residents who need help getting food on the table for whatever reason.
More than 250,000 Lowcountry residents are at risk for malnutrition. Half of those are the elderly or children.
The LFB is one of five food banks serving this state. The others are located in Columbia, Charlotte, Augusta, and Aiken. LFB is in charge of 10 South Carolina coastal counties.
Executive Coordinator Jermaine Husser says his clients are not lazy. He hates the stigma that's associated with hunger. He mostly serves the working poor. Seventy one percent of those utilizing LFB make less than $1,000 per month. When bill season comes, choices between amenities and food have to be made, and food stamps on average last only two weeks for families, according to LFB statistics.
The health of LFB clients affects everyone. Low birth rates are high, along with diabetes and heart problems. Residents in neighborhoods where hunger isn't an issue are footing health care costs for these individuals. It's a not-in-my-backyard problem that South Carolina residents need to be aware of, says Husser.
"We live in the stroke buckle," he says about the Lowcountry diet.
LFB is one of the few national food banks that emphasize providing balanced meals.
Husser's food bank could easily just hand out bags of potato chips and Hershey's Kisses, but LFB board members decided against that.
So they distribute ground turkey, salmon steaks, Smart Start cereal, and the like. The refrigerator Harris Teeter helped them purchase is filled with fruits and vegetables. LFB sees to it that 43 percent of the 701,000 pounds of food they distribute each month has nutritional value.
In addition to feeding those in need, LFB is facing another problem.
The Noisette Redevelopment Project will tear down the warehouse where LFB has been rent-free for six years now in an effort to refurbish the 3,000-acre neighborhood. Forced with having to raise $5 million to relocate to another warehouse, Husser is quick to say he and his food bank won't be going anywhere until a new location is secured.
In a massive capital campaign that's underway right now, LFB has already collected $2.1 million from private investors. They're living month-to-month and staying put for now until they get their pink slip. LFB found a potential warehouse to move into, but the deal fell through. They have since gone to Noisette to discuss other options. Neither side knows what's going to happen.
Noisette Chairman/CEO John L. Knott Jr. says he supports LFB's mission and wants to work with them in regards to facilitating their organization. Both sides are working on viable alternative relocation strategies and plan to discuss these options on March 2. Either way, Husser says his organization has to be out of their current warehouse by next January.
When it comes time to pack moving boxes, Husser says hopefully LFB can partner with Piggly Wiggly for a while as a means for food storage until they can find a new home.
As far as other fund-raising events go, this Sunday's Chefs' Feast will benefit LFB's Kids Café program, which strives to serve warm, wholesome after-school meals to children at elementary and middle schools where 85 percent of students receive free or discounted school lunches. Kids' Café is one of the nation's largest free meal service programs for children.
Hearty, healthy home dinners are not always an option for these students. Parents work long hours in low-wage jobs. Twenty-three percent of Lowcountry children live in poverty. They come to school hungry.
"These are kids of the future learning on empty stomachs," Husser says. By feeding these students a good supper, he says they can wake up for school with fresh eyes and put their imaginations to use.
Nutrition Coordinator Germaine Jenkins is in charge of the Kids Café healthy initiative program. She sees to it that these after-school meals are made with the food pyramid in mind. She tries to eliminate empty calories, but her meals depend on what's in the warehouse. She also teaches the children how to make healthy snacks for themselves at home.
It's important that children learn healthy habits now, while they're a captive audience, before they become grocery store consumers, Jenkins says. She realizes that foods parents can provide for their children aren't always balanced, and by teaching children what's good for them to eat, she's hoping to change health statistics by steering them from traditional low-cost, low-nutrition fare.
Kids' Café also provides academic tutoring to the 13 schools they serve and participating children go on educational field trips to museums and Kiawah Island -- places their parents have probably never ventured, Husser says. nancy santos
Peninsula Grill Chef Robert Carter (pictured) has rounded up a cadre of local chefs for the annual Chef's Feast at the Charleston Convention Center's Grand Ballroom, happening Sun. Feb. 25 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. ($150, 747-8147 or www.lowcountryfoodbank.com) They'll be cooking up prized dishes at this black-tie optional event. Charleston Chamber Players will provide background music, and over 800 attendees are expected to raise $125,000 for the Kids Café program, which is otherwise funded by grants and private donations. Ninety-five percent of proceeds will go to Kids Café.
For those who can't afford the $150 ticket, Lowcountry Food Bank Executive Director Jermaine Husser says there's other ways to help out: volunteer at the event, become an academic tutor, sort through food cans and boxes of Pop Tarts at the warehouse, prepare meals at schools, start a food drive, or be an advocate and write letters to local legislators. There are all sorts of things that can be done to stop unneeded human hunger. LFB requires more than 18,000 volunteer hours a year. Visit www.LowcountryFoodBank.org and find ways to make a difference. A good meal should be a human right, says Husser, and he needs help in helping others.