Those who remember the Great Depression, or who fear another one, know what a run on the banks is. But financial institutions aside, operators of local food banks, pantries and soup kitchens are hoping supplies can keep pace with a growing need for donations.

"A lot more people are coming in now because of the economy. We've seen people who never came in before," said Sister Carol Wentworth of the Our Lady of Mercy Outreach program on Johns Island.

Our Lady of Mercy is one of 325 agencies in 10 coastal counties that rely on the Lowcountry Food Bank for the bulk of the goods they redistribute to more than 31,000 people as groceries or hot meals.

"We've had a lot of first-time people," said Kiki Cooper, director of development for the Salvation Army in Charleston.

"More people are coming out for emergency bags," said Carolyn White, a director of a food assistance program run by 37 churches in lower Charleston County. She said the Hollywood area-based food program is five years old and helps hundreds of families.

The Lowcountry Food Bank last year distributed 10.5 million pounds of food. But demands on the food bank appear to be up as much as 20 percent lately, said Miriam Coombes, development and communications manager for the bank.

Not affiliated with the Lowcountry Food Bank is the much smaller James Island Food Bank. It, too, sees an upswing in demand, which organizers link to a poor job market and layoffs.

"We're seeing more first-timers," said James Island Food Bank board member Larry Alster.

The small food bank serves James Island and Folly Beach and is supported by churches, schools and the James Island and Folly Beach municipal governments. The bank in January served 62 families from a distribution site at Bethany United Methodist Church on Maybank Highway.

"The shelves are stocked now, but they won't be for long at the rate stuff is going out the door," Alster added.

At a nondenominational inner-city mission in North Charleston called Celebration Station, the Rev. Glenn Gilbert said recent increases in U.S. Department of Agriculture food distributions have helped keep pace with needs.

Celebration Station handed out 17,000 pounds of food each month in 2008, 55 percent to 70 percent of which came each month from the Lowcountry Food Bank, Gilbert said. The mission regularly serves about 2,500 families and individuals each month at the Reynolds Avenue facility, he said. They come from nearby streets and neighborhoods or benefit from outreach programs that reach seniors, children and the handicapped as far away as the Moncks Corner area.

In addition to nutrition, Celebration Station provides GED tutoring, job preparation and job-finding assistance and other services. Gilbert said there used to be days when no one dropped by for help, but that's not the case now.

Cuba Marshall, a Celebration Station volunteer, said he's seeing many new faces and, having lived "on the streets" for four years, that he can relate to them. "Their days are rough, but I have been there with them," he said.

Marshall, 59, who now welds for a living, said Celebration Station fed his body and his soul and led him away from an aimless existence. Helping people is very fulfilling, he added. "It gives you a warm feeling that God is working through you."

The Lowcountry Food Bank was started in 1982 with the help of Trident United Way "and a handful of community leaders," food bank Executive Director Jermaine Husser said.

The food bank has programs aimed at children and the elderly and offers nutrition education and tips on safe food-handling practices. The bank relies on grocery stores, school and church food drives, and on funding by local governments, grants, individuals, and business and church contributions. Events such as the Chef's Feast, set for 6:45-9:30 p.m. Sunday, bring in needed revenue, Husser said. (See or call 747-8146 for details on the Chef's Feast.)

Last year, major donations helped the bank move from the former Charleston Naval Base grounds to 2864 Azalea Drive. The bank now owns a modern building with 60,000 square feet of warehouse space, almost double what it had before.

The newer building is named for Paul Hulsey, a financial supporter. Husser said the larger warehouse space is welcomed but needs are growing, too.

"I truly believe that in the next five years this building will be pretty close to (filled to) capacity," he said.