Food pantry veggies.jpg (copy)

Blanche Smith, a volunteer with Community Resource Center in North Charleston, gathers produce in a bag to give away at the center's former location on Azalea Drive last summer. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

A vacant Charleston County building on North Charleston's southern end is now operating as a hub for community services.

Since moving into the Whipper Barony Lane structure in September, the Community Resource Center has impacted thousands of families through food distribution, diaper handouts and financial assistance.

"We are really making a dent," said Louis Smith, executive director of the center.

The facility also houses the Muhiyidin d’Baha Leadership Academy, which is named in honor of the slain Black Lives Matter activist, Muhiyidin Moye, and aims to empower African American youth through education.

The center, which is an extension of the Summerville-based Community Resource Center, was outgrowing its space on Azalea Drive, so government officials pointed out the county-owned building adjacent to a State Department of Health and Environmental Control facility.

The resource center and the leadership academy both entered into a five-year lease agreement with the county for $1 per year. For that they are transforming the empty site into a vibrant center that's impacted 10,000 families through food distribution, handed out 3,000 diapers and helped 150 residents to pay utility bills.

It'll impact several more through education once the leadership academy becomes active in January.

Fresh produce is much needed in the area, which is part of a federally designated "food desert" where low-income communities lack nearby access to affordable and healthy foods. The center recently started a community garden growing lettuce, cabbage and broccoli. 

Charleston County Councilman Teddie Pryor, who led efforts to help the resource center find its larger space, praised its works.

"It's in the heart of the community that needs it most," said Pryor, who also works as North Charleston's project manager.

Regarding social services, Charleston County is currently considering building a facility on the Shipwatch Square site, across the street from the former Charleston Naval Hospital.

The center has used its space as a place where various agencies come together and build relationships.

The site welcomed 19 North Charleston officers, who carried groceries for elderly residents at a recent food distribution. Officials will soon meet with Charleston County School District student-concerned specialists to discuss ways the center can offer clothes, food, and other items to students in need.

The Charleston County Republican Party will also use the facility to partner in a toy drive during the holiday season. 

“The sky is the limit," said Jonathan Thrower, director of the leadership academy. "We’ve got the building and we can do anything we want.”

The leadership academy originally launched in Summerville in 2018, and has since educated 15 youths. Thrower, who also goes by the name Shakem Akhet, plans to continue the academy in January and intends to hold job fairs and GED program at the facility.

“That’s where my heart is," he said. "We wanted to have it to where it was a nice balance of services."

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