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Strengthening Sumter Through Philanthropic Partnerships

During the cold winter months, many of us enjoy snuggling under cozy blankets, relaxing by a warm fire or consuming comfort food that warms our bodies. But for some Sumter residents, there is no relief from the cold. In 2021, however, that changed. Through a collaboration of public, private, and government entities, a winter shelter was established to ensure all Sumter residents had a warm place to sleep when it was cold.

Mark Champagne, executive director of Sumter United Ministries, recognized the need for a temporary winter shelter in Sumter, especially as the population grew due to the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic. Champagne mentioned the need to Frank Edwards, a board member of Sumter Community Foundation (SCF), and a philanthropic partnership began.

The Sumter Community Foundation, a community fund at Central Carolina Community Foundation, was established in 1998 by a group of determined citizens who wanted to form a permanent endowment to serve the community. The endowment provides grants to community nonprofits while preserving the principal for community needs in the years to come. Over the years, the fund has distributed over $162,000 to 23 nonprofits across the county.

The value of SCF extends far beyond charitable funds. Led by a collaborative board, the Sumter Community Foundation’s leadership brings a plethora of community knowledge into the management of the funds. This knowledge fuels the board’s partnerships as they deploy resources to address the needs of the Sumter community.

Andrea Brown, with United Ministries, prepares cots at the organization’s new winter shelter in downtown Sumter. The shelter will be open any night that the temperatures are supposed to be below 40 degrees and will accommodate as many people as they have beds available.

“Our community is changing, and growth brings new opportunities and challenges,” states Kathy Creech, board chair of Sumter Community Foundation. “Our dream is to encourage positive change in our community that enriches everyone’s lives.”

When Edwards brought the need of the winter shelter to the Sumter Community Foundation board, there was no hesitation in addressing the need. Gary Mixon, County Administrator for Sumter County and SCF board member, provided a location for the shelter in a county building that had recently been vacated.

“The Winter Shelter was a community issue and the county needed to do its part,” stated Gary. “The partnership between government, public, and private entities was vital to making the shelter a reality.”

The Sumter Community Foundation provided a $24,800 grant to establish and operate the new winter shelter. A grant from the Williams Brice Edwards Foundation covered the remaining costs of operation, allowing the Winter Shelter to open on December 28, 2020.

“We need to take care of all our community members,” states Frank Edwards, Sumter Community Foundation board member. “The winter shelter helps those in our community who do not have a home. It was an easy decision to join in this partnership and ensure there is adequate facilities for all residents.”

The Winter Shelter serves Sumter residents when the temperature drops below 40 degrees and during severe weather.  From December 2020 to March 2021, the shelter was open 57 nights and used by over 303 guests.  In addition to providing a warm and safe place to sleep, the shelter was used to distribute backpacks, blankets, coats, and occasionally, breakfast. The shelter also provided a venue for the United Ministries staff to connect with individuals who are often suspicious of strangers, build their trust and encourage them to utilize other services.

Volunteers and employees with United Ministries prepare cots at the organization’s new winter shelter in downtown Sumter. The shelter will be open any night that the temperatures are supposed to be below 40 degrees and will accommodate as many people as they have beds available.

“The first night we opened, a man in his late 50’s was very grateful and was there almost every night,” recalls Mark Champagne. “He lived in a tent, which got very cold at night, especially when it rained. It gave us an opportunity to encourage him to return and opened more opportunities for us to help him to independence.”

The Sumter Community Foundation is continuing to build partnerships to help strengthen the community and identify needs across the county. Once a need is identified, the Foundation engages partners, as it did in establishing the winter shelter, to help secure funding and build relationships to address the need.

Community members who want to support Sumter County can donate to the Sumter Community Foundation Fund at www.yourfoundation.org/sumter. A gift to the fund provides a lasting gift to the community – one that will meet the needs of Sumter in perpetuity – a legacy of support for the place we call home.

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