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Aiken business owners express true meaning of community spirit with Achin' Bellies food drive

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Most people spend their weekends relaxing and preparing for the work week ahead. However, a handful of business owners and volunteers spent the bulk of their Saturday morning passing out food bags to members of the Aiken Community. 

The Achin' Bellies food drive provided hundreds of people with a variety of food items, the majority of which were donated by Aiken residents and collected by over 20 businesses in downtown Aiken. Three women ensured the drive went off without a hitch.

Pam Fischbach, owner of Return Engagement, Amy Patheja, an associate with Return Engagement and Holly Segar, co-owner of A Fox's Tale, spent over a month planning, buying and packaging supplies for the drive, even digging from their own pockets when the over $1,700 in donations ran low.

The trio spent Friday night putting together over 300 bags from the collected items, with miscellaneous items being set aside to be donated to Aiken's neighborhood blessing boxes. 

By the time the drive ended Saturday afternoon, the volunteers gave out 280 bags and sent the rest to other agencies to be given away.

The food drive started just before 10 a.m. to compensate for the line of cars wrapping around Hayne Ave. and drew in two volunteers from Aiken Ophthalmology, Jenna Mooneyham and Kathryn Anne Potter, as well as Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon and District 5 Aiken City Council member Andrea Gregory.

Patheja, who originally planned the drive to help fill a need in the community, said she was floored with the community's response, from the drive's sponsors, NMR Hospitality Group and Aiken Ophthalmology, to Bank of America who loaned its parking lot for the event.

The people who stood out to her the most, however, were the Aikenites themselves.

"We had a man who gave us $5 and a bag of food ... but he didn't have anything himself," Patheja said. 

Another man, Patheja added, wrote her a $600 check, every cent of which was spent on groceries.

"I almost cried ... it's just little things like that really touched my heart."

With events like One Table canceled this year due to health concerns, the business owners are interested in continuing the drive into the holiday season – and possibly beyond. 

"I want to encourage a holiday-themed (food drive) next time, and I'm going to see if I can find someone who can donate things like turkeys," Segar said. "I'd really like to see us step in for One Table this year and work with them to come up with a solution."

Patheja added she was interested in making Achin' Bellies a permanent event in Aiken.

"The way people look out for each other, it could grow," she said. 

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