A Legacy of Loving Thy Neighbor
There was something special about Ms. Ida Martin, a woman who just couldn’t stand to do nothing. Her heart and passion for the community gained national attention in 2011 when she was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, one of the highest civilian honors in the United States. In a speech, President Barack Obama spoke about Ms. Martin saying, “In 1987, a single mom and her child—her children—moved in across the street from Ida Martin. Ida saw their refrigerator was empty, except for a bottle of water, so she brought them groceries. And I guess once she got started, she couldn’t stop. So last year, the organization she founded, answered nearly 22,000 requests for aid.” The organization President Obama was referring to is Bluffton Self Help.
When Ms. Ida saw a need, she filled it. She was a dreamer and a doer, a visionary and a missionary in her own town of Bluffton, with ideas as big as her heart. Her goal: Do something to make someone else’s life better. Her mission wasn’t just to help people, but to help them help themselves. She believed that education is important to stop the cycle of always needing and always being on aid or some kind of assistance. It is an opportunity for people to change their lifestyle and help their families.
It’s not surprising that her legacy lives on through her daughter, Constance Martin-Witter, who serves on the board of Bluffton Self Help, is an active member of Campbell Chapel AME Church and is the director of the community soup kitchen, which is based out of Campbell Chapel. Every Wednesday, the kitchen serves between 150 and 180 hot meals. “Everyone is welcome. No questions asked,” said Constance.
The kitchen is a place where people can sit and visit a while—get the neighborhood news. And they don’t just serve soup and sandwiches. The ladies at Campbell Chapel start cooking on Monday, and by Wednesday the patrons are getting turkey and dressing served up with respect, compassion salad with croutons seasoned with grace, empathetic hot rolls that’ll soothe the hunger, and sweet tea and pie that’ll make you feel younger. The kitchen also provides meals for the Family Promise Shelter, and they deliver food to those who are homebound, too sick to make the trip to the church.
A couple of months ago the soup kitchen applied to take part in the Fresh Express Food Program, an initiative of the Charleston Food Bank, which promotes healthy eating. The food bank goes around to farmers in the Charleston area and harvests food fresh from the farms, and then distributes it to a number of food banks and pantries, including the Yemassee Nutrition Center.
One Saturday in July, 5,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables were delivered to Bluffton Boundary Art Studio and Gallery located at 21 Boundary Street—formerly the Campbell Chapel AME Church parsonage, still owned by the AME Church.
Around 30 teenagers from the Debutante-Masters Commission came from as far away as Mt. Pleasant to volunteer to help distribute the food to 150 families in the Bluffton area. It was a day of love and service and mentoring in action, as the elders and local community leaders from Campbell Chapel showed the young people how it was done. The men worked out in the heat right alongside the young people, cleaning up debris and trash from the area, while the women worked in the kitchen, preparing bag lunches for everyone, including people who stopped by to pick up some fresh food. When the first families arrived, all the young people were at their designated stations, greeting guests, bagging up food and keeping count on their clipboards.
The message to the young people was clear: You have something to contribute to this community. You can do something to make someone else’s life better.
You could see it on the young people’s faces—empowerment and pride.
The Fresh Food Express Program is just one thing going on at 21 Boundary Street. Constance also serves as the Treasurer for A Call to Action (ACTA), a local grassroots organization dedicated to inspiring change through action and fostering a collaborative community that provides advancement and growth for all. Recently, the organization, led by President Nate Pringle, received the news that out of 1900 applicants, they were finalists for the ArtPlace America grant, a program that focuses on using the arts to enhance community planning and address community problems.
If the organization receives the grant, 21 Boundary Street will become more than just an art gallery. It will become the HeARTSplace Neighborhood Empowerment Center, a place where people in the community can come and express the needs they see and be empowered to bring about change. Constance dreams of a three-story building, filled with technology, literacy, art, photography, cooking and dance classes. She dreams of providing others with the opportunities and the resources they need to help themselves.
A clear reflection of her mom, Constance Martin-Witter is a dreamer and doer. She and others in her community are doing big things, and they want to empower you to be part of it too. They want to know…what needs do you see in your community and what knowledge and talents do you have to contribute?