Those of us who call the Lowcountry home know it is a wonderful place in which to live, work and raise our families, but we also acknowledge the fact that people are homeless, children are abused and hard-working parents need a little help to get by.
Charleston is recognized nationally as a friendly, well-mannered city, and one of the things that contributes to that reputation is the fact that we are willing to step up and care for our neighbors in need. Over the past 85 years, readers of this newspaper have contributed more than $6.4 million to The Post and Courier's Good Cheer Fund to help the less fortunate among us during the holiday season.
Thomas P. Lesesne, former managing editor of The News and Courier, started the fund in 1927 and raised $1,797 that year. Last year's total of $329,580.90, though down a little from 2010, still made 2011 the fourth most-successful campaign in the fund's history.
The money is distributed through six local charitable organizations: Coastal Catholic Charities, Carolina Youth Development Center, Lowcountry Food Bank, Association for the Blind, Star Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army.
Last year, Coastal Catholic Charities spent the largest portion of its funds on shelter assistance, followed by medical and dental care, utility assistance, food, gift vouchers and transportation. Regional coordinator Helen O'Leary said, “The Post and Courier's commitment to bring cheer and financial relief to our community during the holidays is sincerely appreciated. Through our financial emergency assistance, vision, medical and food programs, we have seen many lives changed.”
She also said the dental program was enjoying great success. “Catholic Charities works in collaboration with MUSC, Trident Technical College's dental program, Affordable Dentures and several local dentists and was able to provide dental replacement care to more than 100 clients.”
Barbara Kelley Duncan, chief executive officer of Carolina Youth Development Center, said that 2011 was an especially difficult year for many of the families in the Horizon House Clinical Day Program at Liberty Hill Academy. “Thanks to the generosity of the hundreds of donors to the Good Cheer Fund, we were able to make a real difference in their lives,” she said. “From rental assistance to utility payments, CYDC was able to prevent several families from eviction or having their utilities shut off. In addition, the kind and generous people who called to offer furniture and other support were connected with Horizon House staff or families to fulfill those needs.”
Ilze Astad, executive director of operations for the Lowcountry Food Bank, says that through a network of 30 emergency food providers throughout the tri-county, the food bank distributed 59,674 pounds of food to 2,504 senior citizens living in poverty. In addition, 277 boxes of emergency food assistance were distributed on-site at the food bank.
Each year, the Association for the Blind uses some of its Good Cheer money to hold a holiday luncheon for more than 200 clients and family members during which each client receives a gift card.
According to former executive director Cornelia Pelzer, the 2011 luncheon again was a great success, with the meal prepared by a legally blind chef and entertainment provided by Laurel Jean Walden, a pianist, singer and songwriter who has been blind from birth. In addition, the association helped clients with utility bills, glasses and low-vision devices as well as assisting with cornea transplant surgery for an indigent 11-year-old.
Though the Star Gospel Mission primarily helps homeless men, it tries to help the larger community as well. Last year, the Rev. William K. Christian, executive director, distributed Piggly Wiggly food gift cards to more than 1,500 families, helped a number of others with rent and utilities, and provided medical, dental and eye care along with emergency transportation expenses, including bus passes.
“We have been truly blessed by the wonderful acts of charity, compassion and caring, along with the outpouring of financial resources from the good people of the greater Charleston area,” Christian said.
The Salvation Army of Charleston was able to help 162 Lowcountry households with its Good Cheer Fund monies, using the majority to help clients with utility and rent payments. In addition, other clients were helped with medications and transportation.
Beginning Monday, The Post and Courier will publish daily stories featuring real examples of how the Good Cheer Fund can make a difference in people's lives.
Donations can be mailed to Good Cheer Fund, c/o The Post and Courier, 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403-4800 or delivered in person. In addition, donations may be made online at www.goodcheerfund.com.
All of the money collected goes directly to the six agencies, with no overhead or administrative costs, and it must all be spent during the holiday season.