Feed the Need gets sweet start
The ice cream sundae bar signaled it wasn't business as usual Wednesday for the lunchtime crowd at Tricounty Family Ministries in North Charleston.
Charleston Grill at Charleston Place brought hundreds of pounds of food, crisp white chef's jackets dotted the scene and TV cameras patrolled for the kickoff of Charleston Chefs Feed the Need at the ministry on Rivers Avenue.
The initiative, announced last month, will rotate weekly among 52 local restaurants, caterers, hoteliers and culinary schools. Each Wednesday, a new one will provide up to 400 prepared meals to one of four nonprofit agencies that feed the hungry: Tricounty Family Ministries, Crisis Ministries, East Cooper Meals on Wheels and Neighborhood House.
"We're overjoyed," said Michelle Weaver, executive chef of Charleston Grill. "It's one of Mickey's best ideas."
That person is Mickey Bakst, general manager of the Grill and the organizer of the effort. As he handed out plates heaped with chicken, lasagna, red rice, vegetables, salad and rolls, he was in a familiar role — front of the house.
"How you doing?" "There you go, young lady." "Here, my friend." Bakst delivered every greeting with a big smile, just as if they were paying guests.
Outside, on a blustery, cool morning, several people standing in line either noticed or already knew about the hubbub. They were grateful because a hot meal is something to rely on when the rest of life is on shaky ground.
Lee Hollingsworth, who usually visits the ministry once a week, is homeless. For the past three weeks, she's been living in a parking garage downtown.
"I don't have a drug problem, I don't drink. There's no jobs. You have to keep your wits about you. It's rough out here," she said.
Unaware of the new effort until showing up, Hollingsworth thought it was "pretty cool."
"I wish more people with money would contribute to things like this. I think the hardest thing out here is finding something to eat," she said.
Carolyn Edwards of North Charleston comes for a meal about once a month. "When your freezer is blinking at you because there's nothing in there, it's a lot of help," she said. "I think it's wonderful, (the restaurants) taking their own food, time and labor to do this."
Tricounty Family Ministries prepares and serves a free lunch three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — to about 350 people on average. Donated food is collected from various sources, including supermarkets. For instance, blemishes are cut out of vegetables that otherwise are perfectly good.
Although the ministry serves a "pretty darn good lunch," Chief Executive Officer Sue Hanshaw said, "This is probably one of the first times we're getting food that everybody else in America is getting."
Charleston Grill brought a bounty to the debut: 500 chicken quarters, 10 hotel pans of lasagna, 100 pounds of red rice and 30 gallons of ice cream. The sundae bar was an ice cream lover's fantasy, replete with chocolate, caramel, strawberry and pineapple sauces, walnuts in syrup, jimmies, crushed Oreo cookies, M&Ms, maraschino cherries and whipped cream.
The restaurant spent a couple thousand dollars at most, said Geno Matesi, director of food and beverage at Charleston Place. "It's great to be able to give back to the community."
The community the ministry serves, Hanshaw said, is a mix of people with different circumstances. There are the homeless, the jobless, the working poor, mothers with kids and an increasing number of senior citizens.
Two of them are Minnie Burkhart and Frank Whitnauer. Married 27 years, they are trying to get by on $700 a month in Social Security, disability and other government assistance. They've been living on the street for about a month, since their trailer was condemned and the landlord wouldn't fix it. They are regulars at the ministry.
Whitnauer said he's trying to hang on until next Friday when the checks come in and he can try to get an apartment. "I want my wife off the street," he declared.
Bryon Frasier of Wadmalaw Island has a construction job but helps to support two daughters and grandsons. "The way the economy is, the pay rate stays the same but the bills go up," he said. "This helps a lot."