[image-1]Since the closing of the BiLo on Meeting Street earlier this year, Eastside residents have been forced to look outside of their neighborhood to find fresh groceries. In response to closing, CARTA stepped in to provide a free bus service for Charleston residents along Route 20, which caters to the areas around the upper King Street Food Lion, as well as a nearby CVS Pharmacy. Now a group of private business leaders and concerned citizens have thrown their weight behind an effort to extend the shuttle service into 2017.

“I saw an incredible need in the community, especially among the elderly and low-income residents most affected by the store’s closing,” says Mickey Bakst of Feed the Need and Belmond Charleston Place. “We keep building the city higher with apartment and condos and turning our backs on the people responsible for Charleston being a city of hospitality.”

According to Bakst, it will cost $7,500 a month to continue operating the free CARTA shuttle. Feed the Need and Belmond Place Charleston have pitched in the funding to keep the route free and operational for a month. In addition to that donation, Hilton and Catherine Smith and the East Bay Company and Blackbaud have contributed enough to ensure the service for two additional months. But Bakst is calling on others in the community to step in and do their part to guarantee that Charleston residents have an easy access to fresh foods no matter where they live in the city.

“It creates a ripple effect when people in the community don’t have reliable access to groceries,” says Bakst. “Until our city leaders step up and figure out how to get a new market in that area, we need to stand together.”

Those looking to contribute to this ongoing effort can make out their checks to Meet the Needs Charleston — a 501 (c)(3) that will transfer the funds to CARTA. Donations can be mailed to 275 Beech Hill Lane, Mt. Pleasant 29464. Route 20 runs along King Street and Meeting streets, and includes a stop in front of the Food Lion on King Street. Food Lion is currently providing passengers with $2 coupons for bus fare through the end of the year.

“In the past week we’ve seen residents of Charleston County pass a half-cent transportation sales tax and $500,000 in state funds has come in for shelters and buses,” said CARTA Board of Directors Chairman Mike Seekings. “Now the private sector is stepping up in an incredible way. Combined, this is unprecedented support for public transit in Charleston, and we sincerely thank Mickey, Feed the Need, Belmond Charleston Place, Hilton and Catherine, and the East Bay Company for leading this effort.”