Ten years ago, Hilton Head Island resident Lena Hardin was unable to walk. Her doctors gave her a bleak prognosis. The pain was so bad that if she tried to stand up, she would pass out.
Because of her medical condition, Hardin was unable to work. She lost her business, her home - everything.
Then, one day she bumped into the Rev. Dr. Nannette Pierson, who told her about Sandalwood Community Food Pantry. Hardin and her husband, Mark Hardin, began going to the pantry for groceries, freeing up their money for other necessities.
Since then, the Hardins have fixed their credit and put money in savings. After two hip replacements, Lena is now able to walk. She is back to work doing hair and will soon open a new business with her husband.
"It helped me get my life back in order, not to have to spend rent money on groceries," Lena said. "This has been a blessing."
The food pantry will celebrate its 10th anniversary Feb. 17. The nonprofit organization, which started out helping five families in the Sandalwood Terrace, Hilton Head Gardens and The Oaks apartment complexes on Hilton Head, now feeds more than 850 families throughout the year, said Pierson, pantry founder and director. With the recent government shutdown, she said the pantry added an additional 35 families.
Of the almost 300 agencies that partner with the Lowcountry Food Bank of South Carolina, Sandalwood was the first to be named a wellness pantry, according to Pierson. From the beginning, Sandalwood has offered healthy choices for its clients.
When the Lowcountry Food Bank began offering a Wellness Pantry Training program two years ago, Sandalwood was added to the list of wellness pantries in the state.
Pierson said Sandalwood is a free choice pantry, which means people are able to choose which foods they take home, rather than being given items they might not need. The pantry offers vegan and vegetarian options, and has a wide variety of healthy foods. It even has pet food.
In addition to free food, Sandalwood offers grocery shopping classes, weekly blood pressure checks, a clothing boutique and job training.
Located inside of Queen Chapel AME Church on Hilton Head, the pantry is open to the public from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays.
Much of the pantry's food is donated by local grocery stores, including Piggly Wiggly and Bi-Lo. The pantry purchases a lot of the fruits and vegetables from Carolina Seafood and Produce so they are not only helping to feed the needy but helping local farmers as well.
"They're not looking for handouts," Pierson said of the pantry's clients. "We're all one mortgage payment away from (needing help with groceries)."
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.