2013 Best of Philanthropy Family Champion

When Ervin Yarrell was a teenager, he left home and spent some time living on the streets. Fortunately, he was able to turn his life around and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for 21 years. His experiences being both homeless and a military veteran, combined with his awareness of the number of homeless vets living on the streets in Columbia, led him to want to do something to help them out.

On Veterans Day in 2009, Ervina and his wife Linda took five bag lunches to Finlay Park and gave them to the homeless they found there. Over the past four years, those five bags have grown to 250, and sometimes as many as 300. Through the group they formed – Columbia, SC Friends of the Homeless – the Yarrells’ long-term goals are to feed 3,000 homeless at least one meal per day, seven days per week and to provide temporary housing and referral services. Short-term, they provide bag lunches in Finlay Park, and they serve 300 hot meals three evenings a week at Columbia’s downtown winter shelter.


The Yarrells do all this without any publicity, fundraising or government funds. Instead, support comes from about 400 people who see what they’re doing and want to help.