‘We’re here to help families when they need help the most’

  • Saturday, July 26, 2014

Steve McDaniel/Gazette Helping Hands volunteer Neil Barrows loads food into his vehicle Friday for delivery to clients that are unable to make it to the warehouse.

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Helping people help themselves is Michelle Arredondo’s mission.

That makes her a natural fit as executive director of Helping Hands of Goose Creek, a charitable organization dedicated to feeding families when life puts them in a tough spot.

“I feel like God put me here for a reason,” she said Friday at her small office/warehouse tucked into a short cul-de-sac between U.S. 176 and U.S. 52. “We’re here to help families when they need help the most.”

Helping Hands is designed so families can pick out what they need most. The small warehouse is set up like a country store, with shelves full of basic food items such as canned vegetables, baby food and other nonperishables. There is also a selection of toiletry items.

“If a person comes in and needs help right away, they can get 10 or 12 days worth of meals here,” Arredondo said. “We can help them relieve some of the stress of having a hungry family at home, and we can be here for them until they get back on their feet.”

Her agency fills a growing need in Goose Creek and surrounding communities. Arredondo said she typically helps about 20 to 25 people when the pantry is open from 9-11:30 a.m. daily. She said more than 11,900 families sought her agency’s help during the recently completed fiscal year that ended in June.

Arredondo said people who need help for several weeks or months must fill out forms to prove income and the size of their family, and must commit to attending a free budgeting class provided by her agency with the help of Sun Trust bank and some local community organizations.

“We want to help people help themselves,” she said. “That’s why our pantry is set up the way it is, so people can pick out what will help them most, not just take a box of food that we hand them.

“The budgeting class gives people some basic financial skills,” she added. “It’s also part of what we want to accomplish in getting people to be self-sufficient.”

Arredondo is especially proud of a pair of walk-in coolers she recently acquired with the help of a grant from the Exchange Club of Charleston. The coolers hold produce and some other perishable items that supplement the pantry.

“We want to make sure people are getting nutritious food when they come here,” she said. “The new coolers have been a huge addition for us in that.”

Besides the grant money, Arredondo said local donations from individuals, churches and companies keep the organization funded and stocked. Local grocery stores such as Food Lion, Bi-Lo and Publix donate surplus food on a regular basis.

She also praised her volunteer staff that numbers about 50.

“None of this would work without them,” she said.

One of her volunteers, Neil Barrows, was there Friday, loading his vehicle with boxes of food for some clients who, due to age or health, aren’t able to make it to the pantry.

“We offer a small delivery service for those who can’t make it here,” Arredondo said. “I’d like to do more, but Berkeley is such a big county that we just can’t go to all the places that need us.”

Even if she can’t reach everybody in need, Arredondo is there every day fulfilling her purpose in life, doing what she and her agency can to get food to people when they can’t get it themselves.

For more information on Helping Hands, a Trident United Way funding partner, call 553-7132 or visit helpinghandsofgoosecreek.net on the Web.

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