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As restaurants, gyms and other businesses close, nonprofits like Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach continue to open their doors to provide assistance to those in need.
The organization, which has locations on Johns Island and in Charleston, has suspended all adult and youth education programs, women’s wellness services and the dental clinic to focus efforts on higher prioritized needs, including providing food and financial assistance.
“It weighs heavy on us knowing we’re one of the few places still open, but we know the work that we do is important,” said Ericka Plater, the organization’s executive director. “It’s a big responsibility and even more of a priority to stay open for the community.”
Plater said the organization is focusing largely on its soup kitchen and food pantry services. Although dining in is no longer an option, bagged lunches are now available to go. Whereas the soup kitchen might have served about 60 to 80 people on a normal day, numbers have increased to more than 100 a day consistently as more and more people are feeling the effects of the pandemic, Plater said.
“One of the biggest challenges is having sufficient food to provide,” Plater said. “We try to maintain as much of a food stock as possible, but as families are getting down to their last paychecks as money begins to dry up, there will be an increase in individuals looking for additional assistance.”
Plater said the soup kitchen’s food supply comes from items purchased from the local food bank and grocery stores or from community donations. Many partner restaurants have also provided food, especially as their dine-in options closed, Plater said.
While the nonprofit continues to provide services as needs arise, Plater said they are also planning for the future. She predicts that with the rise in unemployment rates, more individuals will come to the organization for job and financial assistance.
Plater said the biggest concern is all the unknown factors, but the nonprofit’s staff will continue to be flexible in listening to the community’s needs and filling in gaps where services are required.
“We’re still at the very beginning of what the impact will be in the Charleston community,” Plater said. “But sometimes, people just need a seed of hope, and it may just be seeing that a local nonprofit still has their doors open. The community needs us to show up as much as we can right now.”