Poverty is most likely not the first thought that comes to mind when one hears Mount Pleasant. However, East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO) knows that poverty is a real concern for the community. ECCO wants to challenge any preconceived notions that those who utilize ECCO’s services are not interested in providing for themselves or abusing the system. There are different types of poverty that affect communities, and Mount Pleasant is sometimes overlooked as a community that faces these types of challenges. ECCO’s goal is to help educate the Lowcountry about poverty in all respects.
“It’s more than what meets the eye,” said Stephanie Kelley, executive director of ECCO. “Mount Pleasant is generally synonymous with big houses, big incomes and success. We so often forget about the other side of the picture, those who are struggling just to make ends meet. We talk about poverty in other areas of Charleston and this is one of those neighborhoods that is easily forgotten as one where we have families who are struggling. Many people are surprised to learn that Mount Pleasant has the fourth-highest rate of food insecurity in the state of South Carolina.”
According to the US Census Bureau, the 2017 median household income in Mount Pleasant was $90,454 with 5.4% of Mount Pleasant residents living in poverty. However, the 2018 average income level of ECCO clients was $14,216.89.
ECCO wants the community to understand the different kinds of poverty that affect individuals and families east of the Cooper River. Situational poverty includes circumstances like a death in the family, the family bread-winner losing their job or surviving a life-altering accident and not being able to work. Generational poverty, however, consists of individuals and families who are born into and trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Another key population that ECCO serves is senior citizens. Over half of ECCO’s clients are individuals who are retired and unable to work.
“These people have worked all their lives and our services aim to help them live out the rest of their days with dignity and grace,” said Kelley. “If they’ve never worked and their spouse died, their life has completely changed in a single instant.”
ECCO is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year and the past 30 years have seen a progression of community awareness of what their organization offers. ECCO began as a resource for those affected by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and has since evolved into a permanent resource to help more people throughout the Lowcountry.
From 2018-2019, ECCO provided 175 clients with financial assistance, 447 clients with health education and screenings and over $770,000 in dentistry services to community members. Over 400 families are served monthly and more than 410,000 pounds of food were distributed.