Sen. Katrina Shealy rappels down The Hub (photo by Allen Wallace)
Sumner Bender doesn’t mind admitting she was afraid as she prepared to rappel more than 200 feet down Columbia’s second highest building. She did it anyway, as did dozens of others, because the cause was worth it. “The fear that I felt today is nothing like the fear of parents who don’t know how they’re going to feed their children,” said Bender.
Many of those children will have food, thanks to those who faced their fears and stepped off the roof of The Hub Friday and Saturday, rappelling down the side of the 21-story building to raise money for Harvest Hope Food Bank and to raise awareness of the severity of the hunger problem in the Midlands.
Bender, as South Carolina field director for Souper Bowl of Caring, knows about the problem, which is at its most severe in the summer. “So many kids get all of their meals from school, and a lot of people don’t know that,” she explained. “So in the summertime when they’re not in those education programs that feed them for free, they really don’t know where their meals are going to come from.”
Harvest Hope teamed with nonprofit Over the Edge to organize the fundraiser, in which Harvest Hope supporters asked friends and family for donations to sponsor their rappelling, with proceeds going to the food bank. Sen. Katrina Shealy of Lexington County said Debbie Summers of Harvest Hope asked her to participate, and she never hesitated. Harvest Hope does so many good things for our community,” Shealy said. “You can’t tell them no when they ask.”
Shealy, like Bender, was new to rappelling, and said it was not easy. “It was scary. I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I still feel like Wonder Woman because I was brave and I did it… Going over that wall was a big deal for me because I am scared of heights.”
Deputy Chief Melron Kelly represented both the Columbia Police Department and nonprofit Heroes in Blue. Kelly was asked to rappel by Heroes in Blue founder Kassy Alia, and did not initially realize what he had agreed to do. “I thought I was going to one of those centers, maybe like Plex Hi-Wire, so I said ‘Sure, why not? I’ll take my kids out there.’ When Kassy called me back, she was like ‘No, we’re going to The Hub,'” Kelly said. “I said ‘OK, I’m still in.'” Like Shealy, he said the cause made it worth it. “We need donations. People need to donate.”
The Columbia police force has often supported Harvest Hope, and more teamwork is coming with help from Heroes in Blue. “We’re working on developing a plan for being involved in a summer lunch program,” Alia said. “It’s one example of how our Columbia Police Department heroes are committed not only to protecting us but to really supporting our well-being.”
Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews also took a turn rappelling, as did Adam Amaker of the Irmo Fire Department and several other law enforcement officers, soldiers and firefighters. Gen. Brad Owens of the South Carolina National Guard may have been the fastest of all who took part, going from roof to ground in the time it took Summers, serving as emcee, to read his biography. Fast or slow, all served the same cause. “Harvest Hope does a lot of good for the community,” Matthews said. “It’s just a small part I can do to help out.”
The Columbia Fireflies were also well represented, with mascot Mason among the first to descend Friday, and the team’s Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, Abby Naas, took a turn Saturday. “We have a great partnership with Harvest Hope. We’ve been working with them ever since the flood,” she said. She said rappelling was “an interesting experience,” and said the scariest moment was “When they first have you throw your leg over the side of the buildng and you’re just hanging over the side there and hoping that it’s all good from that point.”
Summers took her own turn rappelling, as did several others from Harvest Hope. Allie Minarik of The Hub descended the outside of her workplace. Husband and wife team Lee and Misty Burton came down side by side and at almost the same pace, though Misty maintained she touched ground first. Drew Stevens of the United Way of the Midlands Young Leaders Society attracted some extra attention as he rappelled dressed as a Ghostbuster. With Saturday’s rappelling taking place during the weekly Soda City market, market founder Emile DeFelice took a look from far above as he made his way back down to Main Street.
Local businesses and organizations including Mast General, Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, SCANA, Columbia College and USC also took part, raising money and awareness. Harvest Hope volunteers also filled two pages with names of those interested in participating next year.
Throughout the two days of rappelling, the cause was always at the forefront. Bender summed it up. “Think about if you work full-time and you have to keep your kids in a program somewhere and you have to decide what bills you’re going to pay.” she said. “A lot of times food is the one that gets put by the wayside. That’s why I went over the edge today.”