More than 3,000 Charleston-based families in need will have the chance to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal after hundreds of volunteers on Tuesday spent the morning packaging and delivering boxes of dinner items.
"This is a big year for us," Charleston Basket Brigade co-founder Pam Hartley told the group of 300 or so volunteers at the Charleston Convention Center. "This is our tenth basket brigade."
The volunteers came in droves to the convention center to assemble the Thanksgiving meal packages and prepare for delivery.
For the past decade, the Charleston Basket Brigade has raised roughly $745,860 to feed more than 150,000 people. The group both assembles and delivers the meals to select eligible families.
The level of need in the community is significant, Hartley and fellow co-founder Michelle Scarafile said. This year, about 600 families were placed on a waiting list for the Brigade's meals.
In Charleston County, approximately 15 percent of residents are at or below the poverty level, according to recent census data.
Federal guidelines from 2017 dictate that a household of four people falls into the poverty level if the annual income was below $24,600.
"The spirit of the Charleston Basket Brigade," Hartley said, "is a community coming together to help a community."
Hartley told the crowd that their efforts would yield dinners for 21,000 people from 3,500 families this year — a long way from the 75 families Charleston Basket Brigade fed its first time around 10 years ago, according to the nonprofit's website.
Year after year, the demand has increased exponentially.
By 2010, their fundraising efforts more than tripled from the previous year, raising $48,840 to feed 1,628 families.
"I really think the most impactful thing for me is how this community has mobilized to make this happen," Hartley said.
Meryl Cromarty, 60, of Daniel Island, said she's been volunteering with the Brigade for seven years.
"It is so amazing to be able to feed this many people," Cromarty said. "So when I sit down to have my dinner, it's with a lot of joy in my heart that we've been able to serve others."
Cromarty raised $4,000 this year, she added.
Marshall Simon, who owns and operates Gwynn's of Mount Pleasant and is a corporate sponsor for the annual event, has been volunteering with the Brigade for the past five years.
It's an event that has helped him gain a better understanding of the sheer volume of people in this community who are in need, he said.
"They do such a great job for so many people," said Simon, who spent the morning hauling packed boxes. "We have so much, and we forget people sometimes that don't."