In April of 2014, Shirley Salvo woke from a deep sleep with the words “hunger awareness” on her mind. In the morning she searched the words online and discovered June is Hunger Awareness Month. She knew immediately the dream was a “God Thing.”
Her first step in responding to the call entailed researching the groups that help feed the hungry on Wadmalaw and Johns Island. She found several and asked for the various groups to meet. In sharp contrast to so many charities competing for available funds, her gathering yielded a wonderful result: The groups’ leaders all agreed that working together would yield better results in their unified mission of alleviating hunger on the Sea Islands. They also agreed their greatest needs were donations and volunteers.
Shirley put together a small fundraising campaign with a goal of $10,000 and before the end of June collected $11,200 from friends and family. After distributing the money to the organizations doing the groundwork, she felt a call to take the idea up a notch and founded the Sea Island Hunger Awareness Foundation. The decision was made to host a large-scale fundraiser and Shirley planned to propose a “Men Can Cook” event, which a friend told her had a successful track record in when used in California.
“When I opened my mouth to offer the idea,” Shirley said, “something different came out. I proposed we host a Gullah Festival.”
With hard work by a variety of subcommittees and lots of prayer, the first Gullah Celebration came to life on May 2, 2015. The event featured music, Gullah cuisine, Sweetgrass baskets, jewelry, art and a silent auction. The event raised over $62,000, which enabled the Foundation to provide funding to the growing number of partner charities.
This year’s Gullah Festival is planned for May 14 from 3-7pm at Freshfields Market, located just outside the gates of Kiawah Island. The event will offer an expanded version of the previous Festival, with a larger and broader range of activities as well as music featuring Lowcountry Voices. There’s also a new Gullah Gala, which will feature artist Mary Whyte and the islanders she uses as models in her paintings. Sponsorships are available, with a donation of $2500 covering the cost of 100 meals. The fundraising goal for this year is $100,000.
Sea Island Hunger Awareness Foundation is staffed entirely by volunteers. The groups they support are:
Backpack Buddies of Seabrook, which meets once a week to pack food and deliver it to schools on Friday
Hebron Zion Presbyterian Emergency Food Bank, which offers a food bank open each Wednesday and Thursday from 10-2.
Holy Spirit Catholic Church Food Pantry, which is fully funded by the Roman Catholic Church and is open twice a month on Saturday
Meals on Wheels of Charleston, providing hot meals delivered daily
Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Food Pantry, open 10-2 Monday-Thursday
Rockville Presbyterian Meals on Monday, which prepares and delivers hot meals every Monday
Stono Blessing Basket, which provides “Blessing Baskets” and Commodity Boxes to 200 families on the third Saturday of each month
Sweet Grass Garden, which provides organically grown food to all the groups
Wadmalaw Island Community Center, which provides seniors with meals, social activities, Bible studies and seniors-related information.
One of Shirley’s latest undertakings is a Crockpot Cooking Class for children. “I’ve been into a lot of the homes,” she said, “and many don’t have a reliable stove. Crockpot cooking offers a simple way to provide nutritious hot meals on a budget. Upon graduation, each child will receive a 6-quart crockpot.”
Shirley is quick to point out there are a dozens of hands and hearts involved in the efforts to alleviate hunger on the Sea Islands and she plays but one small role. Most of the groups have operated for years on a shoestring budget, powered by the Holy Spirit and their passion for solving an overlooked crisis right here in our community.
It is indeed a group effort and the effort was blessed by Ms. Salvo’s organizational skills and trust in her calling. Together these groups are not only plowing and working the vineyard, but gathering the fruit and sharing it with the least among us.
For additional information and to buy tickets to the Gullah Festival, please visit www.FightIslandHunger.org.