Spring 2021 message from our executive director
March 29, 2021

Friends of ECCO,

As our community takes stock of the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, ECCO is reflecting on the growth and transformation of our programs for the better, while celebrating the great generosity shown to our organization by supporters like you. With a ministry of “Neighbors Helping Neighbors”, ECCO has truly relied on support from this community to provide help and hope to those facing financial hardship in the East Cooper communities.

When the pandemic hit our community last March, it impacted our most vulnerable neighbors the hardest. With record-high unemployment and layoffs, neighbors arrived at ECCO desperate for financial assistance and food. According to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, unemployment rose by nearly 260,000 people in the first month of the pandemic. In our community this year, 3,500+ neighbors received assistance through ECCO’s programs and services. While some of those neighbors were current clients of ECCO, over 850 arrived at ECCO for the very first time.

For those facing financial hardship, ECCO was able to be part of the solution and meet immediate needs. In the past year, ECCO has assisted 413 people with $623,206 in financial assistance – a 53% increase in the number of people over the same period in 2019-2020, and a 90% increase in financial support. Because of the ongoing financial hardship of the pandemic, 32% percent of the families who received emergency financial assistance received multiple months of support to help lessen the possibility of eviction, foreclosure, or utility disconnections. A client named John was furloughed from his job in Mount Pleasant because of COVID. He was barely getting by on his unemployment benefits when he turned to ECCO in August for help to get caught up on his rent. In a message to ECCO, he wrote: “I appreciate you all and what you do to help hardworking people like me make ends meet in troubled times. A weight has been lifted from my shoulders.”

Well known in the community as a food pantry, ECCO became a haven for those struggling to put food on the table. Since last March, ECCO provided emergency prepacked food to over 1,800 households in the East Cooper communities. Thanks to donations from local food drives and retail partners, we’ve distributed over 1 million pounds of food. The impact of the pandemic not only grew our need for more food but also changed the way we were distributing food. In response to the pandemic, ECCO switched to a drive-thru model, allowing volunteers and staff to safely place food orders in the backseats or trunks of our neighbors. While this method was successful and allowed ECCO representatives to practice social distancing, we knew we had to get back to a client choice model – giving clients the opportunity to choose the items included in their monthly food order.

To make this possible, our organization needed to evolve and grow. After months of planning, ECCO launched our new SmartChoice Food Pantry program three weeks ago. This new online program allows clients to place monthly food orders safely from their own homes using their phone, tablet, or computer. For those without internet access, orders can be placed over the phone. Our very first clients to place an order remarked, “What we enjoyed most about our online shopping experience was the fact that we could pick what we wanted and not waste anything that may have been given to us previously in the prepackaged food bags. We could make sure those items went to those who liked and needed them most.”

If you visit ECCO’s campus on Six Mile Road, one of the most obvious changes is the transformation and renovation of our Warehouse. Over the past year, a team of volunteers, staff, board members, and community members have spent countless hours planning a renovation with three goals in mind:

  1. To operate the food warehouse more safely
  2. To gain efficiencies
  3. To allow for growth to meet the current and future food needs of our clients

To accomplish those goals, we underwent a three-month renovation. We’ve purchased new equipment, repainted with a new ECCO theme, purchased and assembled new shelving units for increased food supply, put in new plumbing and so much more we would love to share with you on a tour. As one volunteer said, “the warehouse renovation exceeded my wildest expectations”, and we could not agree more. Please send me an email or call our office, if you’d like to schedule a tour of the warehouse.

Since this pandemic began, we’ve all paid a little more attention to our own health. Whether it’s eating a healthier diet, taking the proper medications, avoiding those facing illness, or simply taking better care of our mental and physical health, we’ve made health a priority. For some living in our community, financial hardship makes this very difficult.

Over the past 12 months, the number of neighbors who’ve arrived at ECCO for medical and prescription assistance has also risen. Due to support from local donors and funding through the CARES Act, we’ve provided over $67,000 in prescription assistance to 163 individuals living in our community over the past year. We’ve also had the opportunity to help clients save over $180,000 by helping them enroll in prescription assistance programs. Not only has this met immediate needs by providing life-saving medication, but it’s also eased the financial burden for our local neighbors. In our medical clinics, we’ve had the opportunity to provide care to over 200 uninsured individuals who now call ECCO their medical home, all at no charge to the patient.

ECCO’s ability to respond to the increased needs in our community has been directly related to the level of community support we have received. Thank you for all you have done to support ECCO’s mission over the past year. Because of you, ECCO has been nimble, resilient, and responsive – lifting the burdens of hundreds of families who never imagined having to ask for help from a place like ECCO. And with your continued support, we will remain an essential service for the East Cooper communities for another 31 years and untold numbers of troubled times.

With much gratitude,
Stephanie M. Kelley
Executive Director