Hunger on the Coast: Not just a day at the Beach
What do you think of when you picture the beach? The sound of waves crashing? The feeling of the sun on your face and a cold drink in your hand? The smell of salt water and sunscreen?
What about hunger?
It’s jarring, isn’t it? Those two images just don’t match up. We don’t want to associate vacation spots with uncomfortable issues like hunger and poverty. Going to the beach is supposed to melt away our stress, not add to it. Just about everyone thinks of the beach as a place to relax, have fun, and be carefree—including people who move to the coast. One of the most popular beach towns on the east coast, Myrtle Beach, attracts thousands of people each year—many for a week or two of vacation, but many will stay.
Myrtle Beach is in the center of Horry County, which is part of the Lowcountry Food Bank’s – a Feeding America member – service area. One of our partners, Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach, serves meals to people facing hunger, which includes people who move there and don’t find the prosperity they hoped for. As Community Kitchen’s Executive Director, Deacon Peter Casamento, puts it, “People come to Myrtle Beach because they want to come to the beach. They’ll come down here thinking they’re going to get jobs, but by the time they get down here, there are no jobs. They have no money to leave, and they are trapped.”
There is no quick fix for this problem. Most people who move to Myrtle Beach to find a job come in the high season—when seasonal jobs have already been filled for the summer. They often have to wait a whole year for new jobs to open up. And, as Deacon Peter points out, even for the ones who get employed, in August their hours get cut. The cycle continues.
He remembers one client, Debbie, in particular. After a year of receiving meals from Community Kitchen, she finally got a job at Waffle House. She was working 65-70 hours a week and making more money than she had ever made. She dropped by one day to say hello to Deacon Peter. He congratulated her and asked if she was “saving for a rainy day.” Debbie didn’t get the metaphor at first—she replied, “No, I work on rainy days.” He was worried about her, so he sat down with her and talked about her budget. She had never had enough money to save anything before, but now that she knew her hours would probably be cut at the end of the summer, she realized she shouldn’t be spending every penny she made.
There are a lot of people like Debbie: people who want to live at the beach and work there too, but the jobs they find aren’t stable and don’t pay enough to afford the high cost of living in a resort area.
Community Kitchen and other Lowcountry Food Bank partners are working to provide food for people who find themselves in this kind of impossible situation. Food pantries, meal programs, programs for kids and seniors—these all address the problem of hunger. But Deacon Peter wants to do more. His vision is to expand their mission and add showers, laundry facilities and classrooms for teaching budgeting, literacy and employment training. He also knows that nonprofit and community organizations can’t fix this problem alone. “The reality is,” he says, “the only way to break the cycle is to create more jobs that are year-round and pay a fair wage.” We have to address the root causes of hunger if we want to make this problem a thing of the past. It’s the only way we can make the beach—or anywhere—a good place to visit and a good place to live.
*Sarah Pinson is the agency relations manager at Lowcountry Food Bank.