If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it a lot: "Everyone in Richmond Hill has money."
Some even call it "Richman’s Hill."
A closer look, however, tells a different tale.
"It is a reputation that is so unfounded," said Bryan County Family Connection Coordinator Wendy Sims. "There are many people in Richmond Hill that fall below the poverty line."This may be evident through visits to the weekly soup kitchen or tagging along with Bryan County Helping Hands, a group made up of local church-goers who fix up homes of families that otherwise couldn’t afford to have work done.
"All you need to do is open your eyes," said soup kitchen director Diana South. "There are many in Richmond Hill that could use a helping hand. We deliver meals to 270 people a week and more are added each week."
South points to the economy as a contributor to what seems to be a growing need for the goodwill efforts of her group.
"We used to add one family a month to our list," she said. "Over the last couple months, we’ve been adding two families per week – and they’re all in Richmond Hill. A lot of it has to do with people losing their jobs."
Sims said the economy has definitely taken its toll on a local level, and "we have yet to see the true impact of it and how bad it’s going to get. We’re (local outreach groups) all very aware of it and are doing our best to prepare."
Statistics via the Bryan County Family Connection website show that 10 percent of all residents in Bryan County live in poverty, compared with the state average of 14 percent. "But that average is skewed by residents of Ford Plantation, where you have a small number of people with huge salaries," Sims said.
Sims, who grew up in North Bryan, said she grew up believing most everyone in South Bryan was wealthy, and it is a common misconception amongst county residents. She said her views immediately changed upon getting involved in the juvenile diversion program and especially as director of the recent Bryan County Children’s Fund, which brought Christmas presents to county children in need. She said it was almost an even split of North and South Bryan kids that received assistance.
Helping Hands volunteer and New Beginnings Church Pastor Steve Lane said he has lived in the area for quite some time, but it wasn’t until Helping Hands reached out to the Daniel Siding-Cartertown area that he realized the volume of local poverty.
Lane said much of the affluent stereotype comes from the fact that housing is high, "but it wasn’t always like that. Most of these folks have been here for many generations."
Sims said many with nice homes on the south end are consumed with debt. With such a diverse economic make-up, why is the stereotype so widespread?
Richmond Hill Mayor Pro-Tem Floyd Hilliard said it may come from the fact that many Richmond Hill residents that fit the financial definition of poverty are self-sufficient.
"And I hesitate to use the word ‘poverty’," Hilliard said. "They’re not impoverished – they’ve just been that way all their life. They don’t need the fancy cars or the $300,000 home and they take care of their own. That’s why you don’t hear about a lot of people in need in Richmond Hill."
South made a similar statement, saying many of the soup kitchen’s clients were approached by the members as opposed to low income residents coming to the group for help. She said it may be a matter of pride.
Hilliard spoke of the food pantry behind the Methodist Church, which issues government-subsidized food to those who qualify. He also commended outreach efforts such as Helping Hands and the soup kitchen.
"I’m very proud of the residents of this community," Hilliard said. "That goes for those of all levels of income who take care of themselves and each other. It makes me proud to live in Richmond Hill. With the economy today, I’ll think you’ll see more and more residents stepping up to the plate to help fellow neighbors who fall behind."The Richmond Hill soup kitchen is on the lookout for both volunteers and those in need to add to their delivery list. For more information, call 756-2190.
Look for a story on the economy's effect on North Bryan soon.