With the holidays fast approaching, many families are busy with decorating, shopping and social gatherings. It is important to remember though that there are those less fortunate who will not have the privilege to experience such festivities this year. While more attention is often brought to their plight during the holidays, the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas should be shown and felt year-round.
Local nonprofit East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO) is working to bring neighbors together to keep the spirit of the holidays such as joy, giving and hope alive every day. They offer assistance, guidance and resources to help our neighbors navigate life’s challenges. Each day, the organization provides help and hope to those in need in our community through their food pantry, clothing closet, health clinics and financial assistance programs.
Monsignor James A. Carter started ECCO 34 years ago as an emergency relief effort after Hurricane Hugo following the destruction the storm caused. Hugo exposed myriad needs many leaders in the community had not addressed such as poverty, substandard housing, lack of access to health and dental care, hunger and the threat of homelessness. ECCO serves 10 zip codes and 20 local towns all within the tri-county area.
Their services extend from the base of the Ravenel Bridge to the Georgetown County line and from the sands of the East Cooper beaches into Berkeley County. Last year, ECCO assisted 1,739 households, and a total of 3,233 people. Less than 40 percent of those individuals earned more than the federal poverty level, which was $13,590 in 2022. While the average household income of an ECCO client is around $16,500, 22 percent of their client base reported that they had no income last year. The average household income in Mount Pleasant this year reached $94,000.
“Homelessness and poverty isn’t obvious in Mount Pleasant,” explained Stephanie Kelley, executive director of ECCO. “It’s hidden in pockets and out of our sight. There are families facing serious financial crises all around us. While there are encampments of homeless individuals living throughout Mount Pleasant, we tend to forget about those sleeping in their car, couch surfing from place to place or finding shelter in extended stay hotels.”
Kelley continued, “You might say Mount Pleasant doesn’t have a poverty or homeless problem, but it does. It might not be the homeless environment you see on the streets of New York City or Los Angeles. Many have jobs within the community — they’re the cashiers, servers, front desk clerks — people helping our community function. But while there might be work available, living in this community is almost impossible for those families. Currently, there simply aren’t enough resources in the Mount Pleasant community when it comes to providing assistance to those experiencing homelessness.”
While there isn’t presently a shelter to house those facing homelessness in Mount Pleasant, ECCO and other local nonprofits are endeavoring to assist individuals and families in their time of need. Through their food pantry, clothing closet, health clinics and financial assistance programs, they are helping to lighten the load and provide a glimmer of hope for better days ahead.
If you’d like to learn more or join in their mission, ECCO is always looking for community members to volunteer, host food drives and provide financial support to the organization. Their motto is “neighbors helping neighbors,” and each of us have a part to play in making the community a better place for everyone.
As the holidays grow near, let’s not forget those who are in need. And perhaps this year, we can remember them not only during the holidays, but all year round. Visit eccocharleston.org/ for more information.
By Maurice J. Frazier