COTTAGEVILLE — Bettee Paceleo knows how poverty can trap people in rural areas like this. She knows that some are too old or sick to drive to grocery stores. She knows people who skip buying their medicines to pay for food, and her eyes grow moist as she talks about those who have ceilings made from cardboard boxes.
This poverty is the fuel that drives her to visit inmates, deliver the food to so many people, organize dinners for more than a thousand people. This and her faith. "Without God, I could never do this mission."
Paceleo's story begins in jail.
It was 1995. Her husband had retired from the Army a few years before, and they had settled on a 20-acre farm here. At the time, she didn't feel a sense of purpose with her church and felt called instead to visit people in jail in Walterboro. As she learned about their lives and what led them to jail, she felt an even stronger call to serve others.
She created Community Mission to help inmates after their release. Soon, she was giving needy children in her neighborhood peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then came the free hot meals on Saturday and programs to give people free clothes and deliver food.
The mission grew. She received grants from the United Way, Palmetto Rural Telephone and churches. She worked with Angel Food Ministries, a national group that gives people $75 worth of food for $25, enough food to feed an elderly person for a month. Today, her group delivers 50 bags of food a week. She helped set up a program with hunters in the area who donated deer meat to needy people.
And then there are those Christmas dinners.
Last year, the mission and its volunteers served free Christmas dinners to more than 1,200 people in the National Guard Armory.
On a recent afternoon, Paceleo, 68, was in the mission's clothes shed with Margaret Peters, 85, who calls herself "Minnie Pearl" and does a mean "Howdeee!" They talked about the poor people in the area, with Peters saying some are so needy, "you have to spell poor with three o's."
Paceleo added that some churches in the area do missionary work in other countries, but conditions in parts of Colleton County are worse.
Then, she showed her business card. It reads: "Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible ..."