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Commentary: Unprecedented hunger — and generosity

Shelley Yuhas

Shelley Yuhas, chair of the Lowcountry Food Bank. Provided

In an unusual season of division that seems pervasive throughout our country, let me share some good news: Coastal South Carolinians agree that hunger is not OK.

It’s not OK that in coastal South Carolina, 1 in 4 children do not have consistent access to nutritious food. It’s not OK that 270,000 of our neighbors in coastal South Carolina face hunger every day. It’s not OK that the number of hungry friends and neighbors will grow almost five-fold during the course of this pandemic.

We once believed that the face of hunger was predictable, lived in a particular neighborhood, had a similar story. No longer is this true. We are now facing unprecedented hunger in coastal South Carolina, and it’s not OK.

We agree that this silent epidemic that sends children to school unprepared to learn and strikes the most vulnerable in our population, including our beloved elders, is not OK.

How do I know that we agree on this? The Lowcountry Food Bank has been overwhelmed by the kindness and concern expressed by our community, and together, we have been able to take care of our neighbors who are experiencing hunger. There has been an unprecedented outpouring of support, great and small, to help our neighbors in need.

Agreement is powerful. We know that not everyone is food secure, but we are learning that it may be our neighbor next door or down the street. Maybe it’s a former classmate or a work associate. Hunger does not look like what we may have expected. Agreement can move mountains and change lives. We at the Lowcountry Food Bank believe that healthy, nutritious food can change the story of our state.

Just a few weeks ago, another report emerged about childhood obesity. It’s not OK. Access to healthy food choices in our community is one of the highest priorities at Lowcountry Food Bank, with fresh fruits and vegetables comprising 30% of the food being distributed.

We are also seeking ways to use technology and find strategic partners to identify areas of hunger and distribute healthy food as quickly as possible. It’s a moving target, especially during COVID, but with the support of our community and a dedicated staff, we are making terrific progress.

Because of this unprecedented unity on the subject of hunger, you have opened your hearts and given such generous support. Because of you, we have reason to celebrate, and we at the Lowcountry Food Bank celebrate you and the compassionate community we live in. Unprecedented hunger. Unprecedented generosity.

We are also celebrating the contributions of our dedicated leader, Pat Walker. During her nine years at the helm of Lowcountry Food Bank, we have more than doubled the amount of food distributed to our community each month. With our food being distributed by schools, churches and other nonprofits, we have never seen this level of commitment. Pat is the visionary leader who has led the charge to end hunger in our 10 counties.

This year, Pat will retire and leave behind a legacy of leadership formed with compassion. We at the Lowcountry Food Bank are thankful for her generosity to lead the effort through what is arguably the most difficult season in our lifetime.

Shelley Yuhas chairs the Lowcountry Food Bank Board of Directors.

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