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Acts of generosity appear amid coronavirus fear in SC communities

blessing box

A pair of blessing boxes, decked out for St. Patrick's Day, were full of donated food Tuesday on Fort Johnson Road on James Island. Provided/Lisa Savage

As the new coronavirus threatens livelihoods and lives in the Charleston area and around the world, some have responded by asking how they can help.

On Nextdoor, a social media site that connects people living in the same areas, there's been an outpouring of offers to help neighbors and particularly the elderly.

Mike Van Horn, a father of seven who manages a restaurant at Folly Beach, offered to help any neighbors in his Mount Pleasant community who need assistance shopping for food or essentials.

"We're all in this situation together whether we want to be or not," he said. "Some people don't have the ability to go out and get what they need."

On James Island, two "blessing boxes" where people can donate and collect food anonymously have offered clues that there has been both more need and more help lately.

"Every day they have been emptied, but people keep replenishing them," said Lisa Savage, who cleans and monitors the two boxes near her home. "It's a gift to go out and see such generosity."

The idea is that people take what they need and leave what they can. 

"That's how we all should live, right?" Savage said. The Lowcountry Blessing Box Project has a map of more than 100 locations on its Facebook page.

In many cases, people who have posted offers to help their neighbors attracted more people offering to pitch in. Beth McMurray of Mount Pleasant was one who offered to help.

"We offered to help because fortunately we are able to," she said. "It seems it will get worse before it gets better, and so many are vulnerable."

"It is times like these that brings our community together," McMurray said. "Much like after (Hurricane) Hugo, we need to help each other."

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Businesses, churches and nonprofit groups are also stepping up.

"Our country really is on a war footing, and the entire citizenry needs to pitch in," said Joyce Harder, pastoral care associate at Christ Church in Mount Pleasant.

She's been coordinating volunteers who are willing to assist church members in need, particularly the elderly who face the greatest risk from COVID-19. Christ Church has joined others in canceling Sunday services through at least March, so the church is working to deliver pastoral care as well as assistance and sometimes food to members in their homes.

Choate Construction, meanwhile, was calling Charleston area hospitals Tuesday to see how the company could help with N-95 masks — used by construction crews and by health care workers.

"Everything that's been going on is just wild and we want to do what we can to help," said Choate Construction Safety Director Allen Martin. "We work with dozens of contractors who carry these (masks)."

Nextdoor pages and Facebook groups will miss lots of people who may need help, but may not have internet access or participate on the groups, but they are a way to quickly get the word out.

Established area organizations — churches, Meals on Wheels, advocacy and nonprofit groups, food banks — are ramping up efforts to help those in need.

Coastal Community Foundation has launched the COVID-19 Relief & Recovery Fund to collect donations that will be distributed as grants to nonprofit organizations in nine Lowcountry counties.

Seniors, children, people with health problems and workers in the hospitality and tourism industries will be a focus of the funding effort.

"By pooling our resources now to support those most affected, our region will be better equipped to respond quickly and sustain that response over the duration of this crisis," said Coastal Community Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Darrin Goss.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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