Russell Hines, a former firefighter awaiting disability insurance, stays and eats at Crisis Ministries and "forces himself to keep going" every day.
The 43-year-old Charleston man was one of nearly 200 people who waited in line Wednesday to receive cheery greetings and free plates of steaming chicken-and-sausage jambalaya, salad and chocolate dessert from about 25 eager volunteers of restaurants Fat Hen and Wild Olive.
"I keep praying my disability will come in soon so that I can take care of myself and give this space up to someone that needs it worse than I do," Hines said. "But the food was good and the people behind the counter made you feel comfortable."
Fifty-two local restaurants, caterers and venues have come together to prepare between 300 and 500 gourmet meals and serve it to the guests of four nonprofits every Wednesday of the year. It's all a part of Charleston Chefs Feed the Need program.
"It's going to take the community to end homelessness and hunger, and everybody needs to do their part to help out," Crisis Ministries Development Director Steffanie Godsill said of the lunch served at Crisis Ministries' Soup Kitchen. "And people in the restaurant business understand better than anybody that everybody enjoys to have a good meal."
Fred Neuville, co-owner of Fat Hen and partner in Wild Olive, is not new to participating in charity events, but he said this was a new experience.
"With unemployment rates so high ... you get all walks of life, and it's not necessarily their fault," Neuville said. "It is so important, especially in these trying times, to give back to the community as much as possible."
Brad Cashman, the Crisis Ministries volunteer development director, said the charity saved $500,000 because of food donations alone last year.
"It gives people a realistic approach on our needs and the community's needs," Cashman said of the program, organized by Mickey Bakst, general manager of Charleston Grill. "It gives them a tactile way to give back."
Tricounty Family Ministries, Crisis Ministries, East Cooper Meals on Wheels and Neighborhood House each receive meals on a rotating schedule. Fifty percent of Wednesday's meal, which cost about $2,500, was paid for directly by the restaurants and 50 percent of the food was donated.