Once a year, the Secretary of State's office puts out its Scrooges and Angels list, ranking charities that do the most and the least with their funds.

One of this year's angels is East Cooper Community Outreach.

It is the only agency in the tri-county given the honor this year, and one of only 10 total. Charities can get the honor only once, according to Linda Grausso, ECCO director of operations. You don't even qualify unless you spend at least 80 percent of funds on services; ECCO exceeds that rate at 85.4 percent.

“We are being good stewards of our funding and to our donors,” Grausso said.

You can't ask for more than that.

Busting stereotypes

Because East Cooper Community Outreach is based in Mount Pleasant, there's a bit of an image hurdle for the group to overcome. Turns out they don't give you the keys to a Lexus and a $300,000 home when you exit the bridge after all.

“That's something that we struggle with,” said Ann Treat, director of development. Not only do they serve the rural areas of Huger and Awendaw, but many of their clients come from Mount Pleasant proper.

“It's not all glitz and glamour,” Treat said. “We've been here for 23 years because people need our help.”

The economic downturn means they get a wide range of clients, people in generational poverty as well as people in what they call situational poverty. “We see people that come in here you would not think were here to ask for help,” Treat said.

Like many groups, they help in many ways. They start with the basics — food and clothing, household goods, as well as health care like prescription assistance and a dental clinic.

But, because their goal is not just to fill the immediate needs but to help break the cycle of poverty, they also have their Getting Ahead Family Partnership program, which has reached 93 individuals — but more than 300 people when you include their family members.

The empowerment program is focused on young moms with young kids, and other families who have experienced generational poverty. It's been ongoing for about five years.

“We added the Getting Ahead program because we wanted to teach people how to fish, not just give fish away,” Treat said.

A little goes a long way

A couple of years ago, a staffer wearing an ECCO T-shirt was stopped by a grocery store cashier who said, “You're from ECCO — ECCO saved my life.”

That sums up the amazing power of generosity and direction that a group like this provides. “We're here to help in a crisis, we're here to help them get ahead, we're here to give them hope,” Treat said.

This week the group is handing out turkey dinners to their clients. They also are in the middle of their fundraising campaign. As a group that gets no government money, they need all the help they can get.

And they're about to kick off their Adopt a Family program, which is run through the group's website at www.eccocharleston.org. If you can't give money, you can give time, by volunteering.

Either way is a great way to give hope this holiday season.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565.

or mbalog@postandcourier.com.