The gloom of tough economic times was lightened briefly last week when the Lowcountry Food Bank announced it had received a $100,000 gift from the Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation.

The gift, a huge boost to the food bank's $5 million Grow It Forward capital campaign, came as charitable giving nationwide has decreased, unemployment has skyrocketed and more people in the Charleston area and beyond are going hungry, according to national data.

The Lowcountry Food Bank has seen demand rise 40 percent so far this year, according to Executive Director Jermaine Husser.

Early in 2008, the food bank applied for a $300,000 Kresge Foundation grant, but the foundation, impressed, made it a matching grant of $450,000, Husser said. About $50,000 already was accounted for, leaving $400,000 for the food bank to match.

Len Hutchison, Charleston Market President for Wachovia Bank, said the new gift was meant to "help them get there."

"I can't think of many organizations that leverage a dollar any better than Jermaine's organization does," Hutchison said.

Wachovia volunteers were on hand Wednesday, the day of the public announcement, to help at the food bank's new warehouse on Azalea Drive in North Charleston.

The Paul Hulsey Community Food and Nutrition Center, which officially opened in May, was named in recognition of Hulsey's long-time support. Earlier this year he gave $1 million to the capital campaign.

Hutchison said his company is proud to be able to address the problem of hunger in the Lowcountry, "despite tough times for our industry."

For decades, charitable giving has been on a steady increase, with brief exceptions during recessions when giving flattens or declines slightly, according to the GivingUSA Foundation.

Charitable donations in the United States dropped 2 percent in 2008 from the year before, GivingUSA reported. It was the first decline in giving (in current dollars) since 1987 and the second since Giving USA began publishing annual reports in 1956.

Observers expect no increase in giving during 2009, which has seen a dramatic rise in unemployment, to 9.7 percent nationally as of August, a 26-year high. Unemployment in South Carolina was 11.8 percent in July, the sixth worst rate in the nation.

Nearly 7 million jobs have been eliminated nationwide since the recession began in December 2007. Economists say that the actual unemployment rate is almost always worse than what's reported because unemployment numbers do not include the many people who have stopped looking for work.

Husser said the 40 percent spike in demand on the food bank this year likely is tied to unemployment.

"These are not just our traditional clients coming through the door," he said. They include many who recently lost jobs.

Hutchison said the Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation, which focuses on community development, health and human services, education and the arts, distributes gifts to organizations that fit the aims of the foundation.

"Volunteerism and giving are important to us despite the tough times for our industry," he said. "Hunger is a very important issue, particularly in these economic times."

Food insecurity

36.2 million Americans live in food insecure households, meaning that they are in need of food at least part of the year. 23.8 million adults and 12.4 million children are affected. 11.1 percent of households (13 million households) are food insecure. 3.4 percent of all U.S. households (3.9 million households) access emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.

Top 10 food Needs states (2005-2007)

Mississippi 17.4% New Mexico 15.0% Texas 14.8% Arkansas 14.4% Maine 13.3% South Carolina 13.1% Oklahoma 13.0% Georgia 13.0% Kansas 13.0% Missouri 12.9%

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture