© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
SC Public Radio is currently experiencing major technical difficulties. Our engineering team is actively investigating the matter to identify and resolve the issue as swiftly as possible. Please be assured we are prioritizing this outage and working diligently to restore full functionality to SC Public Radio. We will keep you updated on the progress and provide further information once the issue has been resolved.

A unique partnership connects Lowcountry fishermen with people who don't have enough to eat

Freshly caught swordfish is unloaded from a boat at Cherry Point Seafood on Wadmalaw Island. Nov. 8, 2023
Victoria Hansen
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Freshly caught swordfish is unloaded from a boat at Cherry Point Seafood on Wadmalaw Island. Nov. 8, 2023

South Carolina boasts nearly 200 miles of ocean coastline. Yet, it has one of the highest rates of households without enough to eat. Now struggling fishermen are teaming up to help feed those in need.

Daniel LaRoche watches as his crew, who’s just returned from nearly two weeks at sea, hoists dozens of giant swordfish from the belly of a boat. Some are real whoppers, weighing more than 200 lbs.

Fishing is a way of life for LaRoche. It’s all he’s ever known.

“Yes, I am technically fourth generation,” says LaRoche. “My father actually built this facility here in the late 70s.”

LaRoche owns Cherry Point Seafood on Wadmalaw Island, just south of Charleston, selling fresh fish and shrimp from his dock. But making a living, he says, has never been harder. He wrestles daily with the rising costs of fuel, boat repairs and lures.

Fisherman who's been at sea for nearly two weeks unloads swordfish from the belly of a boat at Cherry Point Seafood on Wadmalaw Island. Nov. 8, 2023.
Victoria Hansen
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Fisherman who's been at sea for nearly two weeks unloads catch on Wadmalaw Island. Nov. 8, 2023.

Then, there’s that tidal wave of cheaper, frozen shrimp from foreign countries that the South Carolina Shrimpers Association calls a crisis. LaRoche’s dock was once home to more than a dozen shrimp boats, long iconic to the Lowcountry. Now there are three, including two he owns.

“Shrimp are extremely hard to get rid of right now,” says LaRoche. “The only thing that's really keeping us going is we're catching a lot of them.”

LaRoche says he must sell even more shrimp to compete with imports as he struggles to keep up. Now, a new program promises help, by providing monthly pre-paid orders for 160 pounds of his shrimp and swordfish.

So, who’s picking up the tab? The South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston.

It may seem like an unlikely partner. But the aquarium promotes sustainable seafood as part of its mission to inspire conservation. The state boasts nearly 200 miles of ocean coastline. Yet, it has one of the highest rates of households without enough to eat.

Conservation director Sara McDonald says their latest project, part of the Good Catch program, connects fishermen with people who are hungry.

“Everyone deserves to have a healthy meal that is hand prepared with care and that is locally sourced,” says McDonald.

The project, for now a 2-year pilot, works like this. The swordfish the aquarium buys from Cherry Point Seafood, with the help of donors, is first delivered to the Culinary Institute of Charleston. Department head Michael Carmel says the sizeable fish gives students much needed practice while teaching a valuable lesson.

Students at the Culinary Institute of Charleston filet donated swordfish that will be prepared at the Lowcountry Food Bank.
Victoria Hansen
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Students at the Culinary Institute of Charleston filet donated swordfish that will be prepared at the Lowcountry Food Bank. Nov. 9, 2023.

“It helps our students become more aware of the challenges we all face,” says Carmel. “Because food is expensive and probably more so now than ever before.”

The shrimp, meantime, is taken to 180 Place, a homeless shelter tucked behind high rises in downtown Charleston. Community Kitchen Chef Maddie Bojarski can’t wait to cook it. She relies almost entirely on donations and salvaged food to crank out hundreds of daily meals. Protein can be hard to come by.

Shrimp donated to 180 Place, a homeless shelter in downtown Charleston, is ready to be cleaned. It was provided as part of the South Carolina Aquarium's Good Catch program.
Victoria Hansen
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Shrimp donated to 180 Place, a homeless shelter in downtown Charleston, is ready to be cleaned. It will be cooked and served to people in need. Dec. 18, 2023.

The shelter provides meals, not only for people who have a bed there, but many who do not. Bojarski serves lunch through a kitchen window to anyone who might otherwise go hungry.

“We see new faces every day,” says Bojarski. “I see, you know, someone that could be me or you or any of us.”

In another kitchen, at the Lowcountry Food Bank in North Charleston, those newly cut swordfish filets are pulled from an oven. Then, they’re carefully packaged with colorful fruit and vegetables.

This is the first time Executive Chef Emily Cookson has prepared swordfish in the food bank’s kitchen. It’s inside the same giant warehouse where truckloads of donations are unloaded and continually sorted.

Cookson hopes the fish will not only provide nutrition, but comfort.

“You know, sometimes, I think people who need assistance feel very marginalized,” says Cookson.

Lowcountry Food Bank Executive Chef Emily Cookson pulls fileted swordfish from the oven. It was donated as part of the South Carolina Aquarium's Good Catch program.
Victoria Hansen
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Lowcountry Food Bank Executive Chef Emily Cookson pulls fileted swordfish from the oven. It was donated to help people in need as part of the South Carolina Aquarium's good catch program. Dec. 12, 2023.

The swordfish meals will be delivered to people who are homebound. And it’s not just seniors, says the Executive Director of Summerville Meals on Wheels Crystal Bovell.

“You know, because of Covid, because of the current economy, we’re having lots of different kinds of people call,” she says.

Chip and Beth Strickland volunteer for Meals on Wheels and see all kinds of people who are homebound. They say some have been physically injured, others recently widowed. The couple hand delivers food door to door from the trunk of their car.

“It’s just very rewarding just to see people so grateful for such a simple thing,” says Chip Strickland.

The couple regularly visits Patricia Craven who’s clearly struggling as she opens the door in a housecoat. Her heater is no longer working, and she can’t afford a new one. The Stricklands recently helped her get a new front door.

Craven seems grateful for the company and breaks down in tears as Chip says goodbye while giving her a hug.

“Thank you. God bless ya’ll,” she says.

The Stricklands say they never knew there is so much need until they volunteered and asked how they can help. And they do it, not just during the holidays, but all year long.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.