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Inside Our Towns: We share the stories of American renewal here.

Feeding, sustaining, and building community in Kershaw, South Carolina through KARE.

How do you ensure five pallets worth of cabbage get to those experiencing need before it spoils?

That is a very real problem Scott and Tiffany Whaley once had to solve at the Kershaw Area Resource Exchange (KARE), a nonprofit providing hunger relief and crisis assistance in Kershaw, South Carolina.

They discuss that, ways to replicate their community service model, and more with Evan Sanford in this episode of “Inside Our Towns.” You can listen to their conversation here:

Subscribe to Our Towns on Spotify here.

I first met the Whaleys during the reporting trip my Our Towns colleague, and fiancé, Michelle Ellia and I took in August. I wrote about our first impressions here, and about Kershaw’s embrace of “new ideas in old spaces” here, where we saw the impact of the Arras Foundation, Community Heart & Soul®, and several local nonprofits.

Scott and Tiffany Whaley stop for a picture in front of the old Kershaw Train Depot renewed as office spaces and a museum. Photo by Michelle Ellia.
Scott and Tiffany Whaley stop for a picture in front of the old Kershaw Train Depot renewed as office spaces and a museum. Photo by Michelle Ellia.

During our tour of the town, we saw KARE’s office space and its thrift store. We also saw the original location of the food bank, which now serves as storage, and the new, expanded food pantry, out of which last year some 3,000 households received half a million pounds of food with an additional 4,000 households in the surrounding area were served almost 75,000 pounds of food through the mobile pantry distribution, as Tiffany tells Evan.

During their discussion, Tiffany and Scott also offer how-tos to those look to replicate their model:

Tiffany says:

“First of all, look around your community and find out if someone’s doing this already. I think before you start any kind of project from scratch, you need to see if there’s someone you can come alongside and help them do what they do a little bit better. You know, we try to create these new, fabulous things when someone is working on it down the street, and all it would take us a few conversations to really make something good, great.”

Scott adds:

“If you determine that there is no one offering that kind of service, then you develop your mission. You come up with your mission, you memorize your mission, you stick to your mission, and you don’t let anything cause you to deviate from your mission. And as soon as you just get that tunnel vision for the mission, you’ll see that it just grows and grows, and opportunities become more and more frequent, because you’re pursuing something with every fiber of your being, so to speak.”

Since our visit, we also learned that KARE is growing yet again, which Scott and Tiffany explain in conversation with Evan, along with how they got started at KARE, the involvement of their business, GrassRoots Advisors, and their work as volunteers in the Community Heart & Soul process, a resident-driven community development process. (Community Heart & Soul is a partner and supporter of Our Towns reports.)

We provide the Otter.ai-generated transcript below mainly as a guide to listening to the actual discussion — and with awareness that it contains typos and will differ in some word-by-word details from what you may hear for yourself. The time-stamp numbers you see are roughly cued to the portions of the “Inside Our Towns” episode.

Evan Sanford  00:07

Hi there and welcome to this edition of Inside Our Towns. My name is Evan Sanford and I’m a contributor for the Our Towns Civic Foundation and also the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Redlands, California. Now to our guests today: Scott and Tiffany Whaley are the owners of Grassroots Advisors LLC in South Carolina, helping businesses and nonprofits with technology solutions, problem solving, updating and drafting policies and procedures, building relationships within a particular industry. And more Scott and Tiffany live in rural Kershaw with their four children. And since moving there in 2006, they built their lives around the idea of community. They work together, homeschool their children, and are very involved in helping make Kershaw a better place. I’m so excited to get to what they’re working on in their town. But first, I’d like to welcome our guests to the program, Scott and Tiffany, thanks for joining us.

Tiffany Whaley  01:04

Thanks for having us.

Scott Whaley  01:05

We’re glad to.

Evan Sanford  01:06

So let’s start with a little bit more about your background and how you ended up with your consulting work at KARE, which is the Kershaw area Resource Exchange. It’s an organization which deals with hunger relief and Crisis Assistance. And this year marks its 40th anniversary. So how did you end up getting involved there?

Scott Whaley  01:26

We’ve been involved with care almost since day one of our move to Kershel 2006, we were approached, not long after we moved here by one of the original founders of the organization, more as a welcome to the community kind of scenario than anything to do with KARE. And then just being associated with KARE, we ultimately became involved with KARE versus volunteers. And then in various levels of, of involvement, I guess, culminating with being on the board, both of us at different times. And then we there was an opportunity to utilize our consulting experience to help care when they had the assistant director stepped down to pursue a job in another field. And rather than hire someone to come into the position, Tiffany created a proposal for KARE that we would fill that role on a part time basis, but provide double the efforts because of what we bring to the table, so to speak. So it worked out for the best it’s saved, save KARE money in the long run. And we were able to take our expertise and really sharpen some areas where KARE just needed a little bit of KARE.

Evan Sanford  02:52

Well, that’s a perfect segue into the next question, which would be as it’s approaching its 40th anniversary, Tiffany, maybe you can help us out with this. But the main function of KARE wasn’t always what it is today. Can you give us a little bit of background as to what they were doing when it was founded and how it’s changed today?

Tiffany Whaley  03:11

Absolutely. When it was founded, it was simply a clothes closet, it was a group of ladies within one of the local churches that I guess upon cleaning out closets realized that they could keep those resources in the community rather than taking them into a neighboring community to a Goodwill or another, you know, thrift store. So it began with just being your clothes closet, and it grew from there.

Evan Sanford  03:37

Can you list some of the things that you are involved with now, as an organization?

Tiffany Whaley  03:42

We do still have our resale store that thrift store that generates revenue for the organization. But also we provide monthly food orders for neighbors in the community, as well as financial crisis assistance for short term financial crises, and also some budget planning tools for people who are just trying to figure out how to live within their means.

Evan Sanford  04:05

And we’ll get to the food pantry in just a moment. Because that’s certainly something to talk about. But I want to also talk about the fact that care was acknowledged recently by your state’s Secretary of State, and it’s a very prestigious honor five nonprofits and KARE was one of them. That must make people that you’re working with in the organization, very proud of the work that’s going on. What is so unique about what KARE is doing to be honored?

Scott Whaley  04:32

KARE was the recipient of the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office Angel Award, which is awarded to five nonprofits whose balance of expenditures goes at the 95th percentile and above directly into the services or programmatic efforts of the agency. And so KARE was in that above that 95th percentile meaning that our overhead, we keep at 5% or less of the money that we bring in, and the rest of it goes into the programs. And then we receive organizations that achieve that status receive the angel award. And so it just goes to show that we are taking the money that we raise and utilizing it to the best of our abilities to provide the best possible services to our clients.

Evan Sanford  05:26

So let’s talk about the partnerships that you’ve formed. It doesn’t just happen overnight, to provide the services that you do a lot is involved in getting people to the table. And so I’m sure there’s local nonprofits or foundations that you’ve worked with, how important are they to the function of your organization,

Tiffany Whaley  05:46

When they’re integral are the extension of our services has been just 100% related to the referrals that we can give out and the the foundation’s we partner with. We, anytime there’s a new program being offered by another organization, we instead of trying to reinvent that we partner with those organizations, if we can serve our client base, using those services, so it’s without them, we would be very limited and the stuff that we have worked we can provide.

Evan Sanford  06:21

So let’s talk about the food hub, which is something very exciting that you’re working on. So tell us what we need to know and how is it different from other food pantries across the country.

Scott Whaley  06:31

I think that ours is very unique in that personal itself, the town of Kershaw sits, almost dead center of three counties to you can literally walk just a couple of miles in any direction from the care doors, and be in one of those counties. So our service areas is nice and broad in that regard. So we’re able to partner because of our location with lots of other organizations who are almost, you know, spinning around our little geographic orbit, we have the facilities to, to store and keep and house a certain amount of food, which we’re currently bursting at the seams in that regard. But we do have more capabilities than a lot of the smaller organizations that are around. So we oftentimes will get in more food than we can handle in our facilities. But because of these partnerships, we can make phone calls and say, “Hey, we have five pallets of cabbage today, we can’t possibly distribute five pallets of cabbage to our clients alone before we start to have cabbage spoilage” — which is never fun — “so would you guys be interested in coming to take a pound? Would you guys be interested in coming to take a pallet.” And so it’s almost like I would almost define it as a food cooperative effort amongst pantries. The other thing that we have is we are stationary in our location, some of our partners have mobile food pictures, so they can drive out to an in Kershaw is a very rural area. They can drive out to even more remote rural areas park in a church parking lot in a school parking lot in a business parking lot, and let people come and pick up food orders who might otherwise be unable to get into KARE to take them. So we feel like it’s it’s unique in that because of the partnership to distribute food is not a not a unique idea. There’s, you know, there’s certainly you can come up with unique ways to prepare food or whatever. But we feel like this concept of sharing with others who have different kinds of tangible resources allows us to get more food to more people in more places.

Evan Sanford  09:03

Just want to get a rough idea of how many people are actually served by your food hub and the partnerships that you’ve made. In terms of the footprint of what you’re serving in the town and the surrounding areas. How many people would you say benefit?

Tiffany Whaley  09:18

So last year alone, we service just directly from our facility, almost 3000 households with half a million pounds of food. Additionally, through the mobile pantry distribution, which is that relationship we were speaking of an additional 4000 households were were served and they received almost 75,000 pounds of food. So you know, almost 600,000 pounds of food and almost 8000 households. So it’s a pretty significant impact and a very small community

Evan Sanford  09:52

and remind us the community size again,

Scott Whaley  09:56

Inside town limits. There’s about 1500 people. But as you expand out which when you get into our service area, we get into 5000 6000 7000 people.

Evan Sanford  10:08

So you’re serving more than that. Yes, in your operation. That’s incredibly impressive.

Tiffany Whaley  10:15

And that’s multi county relationships. Right.

Evan Sanford  10:19

Now let’s talk about where you are, in terms of doing this food distribution. There was an original space, and now there’s a new space. Can you tell us what’s been going on there recently?

Tiffany Whaley  10:31

So we have a campus that encompasses about a, almost an entire city block, within our town. And there was a spot there that we had staked off to construct a 10,000 square foot warehouse, it was basically a metal building that we could put some refrigeration and freezer units in. And when we started checking quotes for construction cost, the prices were astronomical, just, you know, when we were asking people to be good stewards of their money, it was very difficult to, to consider going into a $2 million construction project. And so we sort of put it on the back burner for a while until a retail space became available for auction. And it was a retail space. That’s around 16,000 square feet that we had had previously been on the market and we had looked at but again, it was cost prohibitive. It’s very cost prohibitive. So so we put that on the on the backburner as well. Well, when it came up for auction, we thought, okay, let’s give it a try. And we were able to, to win the auction at a fraction of the cost of any of it. So we have purchased that space, and we’ll so we’ve just changed plans completely. And our thrift store will move into that space, and the area that is attached to our building, which is where our food pantry is now will become the food hub. So we’re able to keep the food hub on our original campus and move the thrift store which sort of operates independently anyway, to its own space.

Evan Sanford  12:08

Now, what’s also really interesting about where that location is, is that this all relates to the efforts of downtown revitalization happening across the country. So can you talk to us a little bit more about how that’s playing out? Absolutely.

Scott Whaley  12:24

So Fred’s pharmacies was a nationwide or at least a regional pharmacy chain. They went bankrupt in 2017, or 18. I believe. They had just constructed this new Fred’s pharmacy in Kershaw, it was a it opened in 2017, it did open 2017. So I guess it was closed in 2019, early 2019. And then there’s this brand new building on our main street that is now empty, and it is locked so large that it’s, again, cost prohibitive to any of our local people to to purchase. So it sat on the market for quite some time. And finally, I suppose the owners decided, let’s see what we can do with this. So they put it on for auction. What this does for us is, so care current location is off of the beaten path a little bit, which is great for our food pantry, our Crisis Assistance, because it provides some anonymity for our clients. However, we run our retail store out of that same facility. And we’ve got to promote our retail store because we want more people coming in. So this does a lot for that whole scenario. So we take the retail store, we move it into a very public very visible space. It maintains the anonymity that our clients have at the food hub while simultaneously expanding their services. But also, it removes a vacant building from our downtown thoroughfare must travel thoroughfare and it puts into that facility, a name that’s already established is already well known to our community and many in the surrounding area. But now, it will also be visible to people that are passing through. And they’ll see this and they’ll say, oh, what’s, what is this, and they’ll see the cars, they’ll see the crowds, and which will help us to generate more revenue that we can dump back into the food pantry and Crisis Assistance Programs.

Evan Sanford  14:44

Well, that is incredibly exciting. I’m so happy to hear all this good news. With the holidays quickly approaching. It’s easy to see how your services could be utilized even more than normal. So are there plans to ramp up, how are the plans working to scale up for the next few months,

Tiffany Whaley  15:05

we have noticed an uptick in our client base in the last, probably the last month or two, it’s been a sort of a steady increase. And that’s due largely in part to the rising food costs and the grocery stores. And some of the assistance that was handed out post COVID is sort of starting to be scaled back as well. So we have noticed an uptick in our client base. And we have also in recent years, started around November and December, adding an extra food box to our clients food orders. Because we know that around holidays, there are often more people visiting. And we provide, we try to help provide things that can help make a nice Thanksgiving dinner, a nice Christmas dinner, we provide things like sugar cookie mix, so people can still get the enjoy, you know, be able to enjoy baking with their grandchildren. So those are just some accommodations that we’ve made.

Evan Sanford  16:02

Do you think donations will be higher as well?

Scott Whaley  16:05

We typically do see an uptick in giving around around the Christmas season. Yes. Thanksgiving, Christmas. Yes,

Tiffany Whaley  16:14

we also run fails often in our thrift store, where a discount is given to customers who bring in donations for our pantry. So we we will run those every usually every other month. So that’s usually a good donation for our food bank.

Evan Sanford  16:32

Do you think that what you’re doing can be replicated and other communities around the country?

Tiffany Whaley  16:38

Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. We we’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just building relationships with people and providing much needed goods and services to people who need them.

Scott Whaley  16:48

We don’t have a lot in the way of resources in Kershaw, South Carolina, this is certainly not an area that is blessed. fiscally, it’s a very rural place with not a lot of opportunity. Particularly, as you know, children go through school and they graduate, they’re looking for career paths. This is not one of those places that stands aloft like a beacon, drawing people in. If we can do that here, I certainly think it’s replicatable. That’s a word.

Evan Sanford  17:27

Let’s add words, come on. Yeah, it is now it is. Now I love it. What would your recommendation be to people listening to this that would want to embark on a journey like yours?

Tiffany Whaley  17:41

First of all, look around your community and find out if someone’s doing this already. I think before you start any kind of project from scratch, you need to see if there’s someone you can come alongside and help them do what they do a little bit better. You know, we try to create these new fabulous things when someone is working on it down the street and all it would take us a few conversations to really make something good, great.

Scott Whaley  18:04

If you determine that there is no one offering that kind of service, then you develop your mission. You come up with your mission, you memorize your mission, you stick to your mission, and you don’t let anything causes you to deviate from your mission. And soon as you just get that tunnel vision for the mission, you’ll see that it just grows and grows and opportunities become more and more frequent. Because you’re pursuing something with every you know, every fiber of your being so to speak.

Evan Sanford  18:40

What would you say your mission is either personally, or as an organization?

Scott Whaley  18:45

KARE’s mission is helping neighbors in need with hunger relief, Crisis Assistance and Resource referrals.

Tiffany Whaley  18:53

I think personally, we could just cut that off at the beginning and helping neighbors in need. Yeah, that’s, that’s why we came alongside KARE and why KARE’s been so special to us. Because we care about the community we live in.

Scott Whaley  19:07

Right? Yeah. We’re living our dream. So you know, we want other people to be able to do that as well.

Evan Sanford  19:14

Speaking of making dreams come true. I wanted to ask about Community Heart & Soul and your affiliation with them. And listeners of this podcast, will probably remember this Foundation’s name and the work that they’re doing, but I wanted to see how you got involved and how it’s impacted your lives and your involvement with care.

Scott Whaley  19:36

Someone in the town, our former town administrator approached us and asked if we would be willing to serve on this committee. And then he quickly turned over the responsibility of chairing that committee to me and so we started gathering up our group of people that from all different On walks of life and perspectives within the community, to try and determine really what was the heart and soul? Or what is the heart and soul of Kershaw, what is it that we value? What is it that we cling to? What is it that we hoped for? And we began to go out into the community and talk to real people, we conducted hundreds of interviews in person over the phone, you know, short versions, long versions, with very pointed questions with very broad base questions, just trying to get a feel for what people thought about Kershaw and what they felt like where its strengths, its weaknesses, what what what were one of the questions that we had is, what’s what’s something you hope never goes away and curl shell, and what’s something you would like to see that Kershaw’s never seen to have, you know, those sorts of things, and having people really think about what they might like to see Kershel evolve into, you know, in the next 5, 10, 50 years, you know, depending on who we were talking to, because we talk to people of all ages and sizes, and, you know, all across the spectrum. So it was, it was a great experience, we learned a lot we developed some value statements for, for the town of Kershel, that we really feel like reflect who we are. And, you know, we turn those over to the town government, to use to guide them in the things that they’re going to do going forward. What matters most are people.

Evan Sanford  21:47

That’s another great transition into a question that I like to ask people that we have on our podcast is what do you consider to be South Carolina or your community’s greatest resource? And how can it be harnessed to improve the economy or just your area?

Tiffany Whaley  22:05

Well, I think our greatest asset is definitely people who live here. There’s so many talents and passions, and just heart for this community that that I think, when all of those neighbors work together, we’re unstoppable. I mean, really, and and I don’t know if it’s a small town thing, or if it’s just something unique to Kershaw that I mean, we have seen time and time again, this community rally around needs. And a lot of times it’s even though we’re small, I don’t know everyone who lives here. And there are people who will rally around complete strangers just because they know someone who knows someone. They might as well we think, so it’s it’s just encouraging to see that like I really believe in the people who live here.

Evan Sanford  22:54

Well, we believe in you and the work that you’re doing, and we appreciate you both for spending some time with us. Thanks to Scott and Tiffany for joining us on the program. And thank you to our listeners for joining us as well. Until next time, I’m Evan Sanford, and this is Inside Our Towns.