Fighting for Food: SC residents struggling for basic needs

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - New numbers show that people in South Carolina are having a difficult time affording basic needs like food.

A study conducted by the Food Research and Action Center shows 22 percent of South Carolinians have not had the resources, on at least one occasion, to provide food for their families in the last 12 months. That means roughly one million people in the state have gone hungry at some point in the last year.

The state ranks 5th on the list behind Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Kristian, a single mother of three, knows first-hand how hard it is to make ends meet. On Thursday, she turned to Harvest Hope Food Bank to put a meal on the table. It wasn't the first time the 24-year-old has reached out to the organization for assistance.

"I'm trying to find any resource that's going to help," she said. "It's prettty much all I'm trying to do."

The unemployed Midlands woman says sometimes she skips meals to make sure her children can eat. Unfortunately, she is not alone.

Despite the fact the state's unemployment rate dropped to 9.3 percent in January, the sixth straight month of decline, it is still above the national jobless rate. While there are signs of economic improvement it is slowly trickling down to the streets.

Even in the shadow of the State House hunger knows no boundaries. Columbia ranks as the 13th worst city in the nation for people experiencing food hardship.

"Those are our friends, our family and our neighbors," said Sue Berkowitz of Columbia's SC Appleseed Legal Justice. "While we may not hear about it or it may not be right in our face, these are hard-working people or people who have worked all their lives and are now retired."

Food banks and other charitable groups like the Salvation Army have watched need increase for their various assistance programs while donations drop. The organization's Woodyard Fund, which helps struggling people pay their utility bills, received fewer donations while demand spiked.

"The folks who normally give may not be able to give as much as they have in the past," said Major Roger Coulson of the Salvation Army. "And, of course, there have even been those occasions where folks that normally give have found themselves in need of being a recipient."

Advocates say state leaders need to do more to recruit higher-paying jobs to the state to help solve the problem long-term, pointing to the fact that South Carolina still ranks high on the list for food hardship even in better economic times.

"Policymakers need to be thinking about not only bringing in better jobs, because that is a long term solution," said Berkowitz. "But, what about the short-term solutions, what can we do to help families now?"

However, even public assistance programs aren't enough for Kristian. She says the food stamp allotment she receives from the government for her three children declined after she re-applied for the program despite the fact she is still facing the same level of financial difficulty.

"It almost feels like a slap in the face," she said. "You had this much, but now we're just going to take it down to this much. And it's not even enough to buy a week's worth of food."