Harvest Hope is one of the largest food banks in South Carolina. The organization supplies to 20 S.C. counties and partners with other agencies to alleviate food insecurity. (Photos by Abby Foncannon)

Hungry people continue to show up at Midlands food banks and pantries, even though COVID is winding down and most folks have returned to work.

South Carolina reduced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits three months ago as part of the mandatory federal reduction in COVID-related benefits. 

Despite that, one in nine South Carolinians struggle with hunger. And they’re still showing up at food banks.

Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia serves 20 S.C. counties and partners with numerous organizations to help residents who experience food insecurity. 

“During COVID, we saw our number of clients reach new heights, and that number has remained at those high levels post-COVID as inflation has risen and pandemic assistance has gone away,” said Megan Evans, marketing and communications specialist for Harvest Hope. 

Groceries and food products have skyrocketed in price due to recent inflation. Food banks, too, are struggling to make ends meet to have enough food for clients.

“When prices are too high in the grocery store, your dollar isn’t stretching as far as it used to, which means that our dollar isn’t stretching as far when we’re making our purchases,” Evans said. “Donors aren’t able to give as often or as much as they’d like.”

Sharing God’s Love, a cooperative ministry in Irmo, partners with Harvest Hope to alleviate food insecurity in local communities. 

In November 2022, the ministry received an Angel Award from the S.C. Secretary of State. This award honors charitable organizations that use at least 80% of their contributions for charitable services.

“We are very fortunate in that we live in an extremely generous community,” said Shari Selke, executive director at Sharing God’s Love.

Selke noted that in the past few months, Sharing God’s Love has seen about 100 more clients per month at the food pantry. That means there’s more need for volunteers.

“It’s kind of a call of action for the whole community,” Selke said. “I think that what we’re going through is temporary, but it’s been long. People are hurting, and it’s just a time to love one another.”

The South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center fights for low income South Carolinians to help them overcome social, economic and legal injustice. 

Sue Berkowitz, the director at Appleseed, recognizes food banks are experiencing hardships because of SNAP benefits changing. 

“They’re going to be overwhelmed,” Berkowitz said. “SNAP is the No. 1 defense against hunger in our country. And the more SNAP benefits that people can get, the less pressure it puts on the food banks to be able to supplement or to have to supplement.”

Food banks are one of the main contributors fighting the battle against hunger in the state, even with the influx of South Carolinians experiencing food insecurity and inflation on the rise.

“There’s no doubt that this is going to open the floodgates,” Berkowitz said. “And people are going to be needing the help of the food banks, because food prices are still sky-high.”

Neighbors are coming together to assist each other in more than one way, even with fewer SNAP benefits for S.C. households.

“Thankfully, we are surrounded by amazing people and communities who love to step up for their neighbors in need,” Evans said. “We have amazing volunteers who dedicate their time weekly to the fight against hunger. And we truly couldn’t do it without them.”

Megan Evans has been working at Harvest Hope since January 2022. She prides herself in the work the organization does for S.C. communities.

Harvest Hope receives donations from countless organizations and companies. They have partnerships with several food retailers, such as Food Lion and Walmart.

Boxes of food are created to be sent out to several organizations. Harvest Hope assembles boxes for schools and senior centers to be delivered on a regular basis.

A Harvest Hope employee takes inventory of the warehouse. Keeping up with products’ expiration dates is important.

Every client at Harvest Hope can receive two bundles of bananas to help with a balanced diet.