HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Thousands of South Carolinians are struggling to pay rent and utility bills during the pandemic.

Many are still working to pay off overdue bills after losing their jobs last year, according to United Way Horry County.

The organization said it’s been a resource hub during the pandemic — working to bridge gaps between problems and solutions.

“When the pandemic started food was a huge need here,” said Blakely Roof, the president and CEO of United Way Horry County. “Grocery stores were running low. Churches weren’t meeting and that’s where food pantries usually get their food.”

More than 18,000 families were fed via food drives hosted and promoted by United Way. Food insecurity impacts the county a year later, but the need for utility assistance is greater.

Statewide, calls for help with utilities were up more than 88%, according to Roof. In Horry County, calls were up more than 90%.

Officials said record-breaking unemployment numbers play a factor.

“You had people that maybe couldn’t pay while the utilities weren’t shutting off, the meter kept running,” Roof said. “When it did come due, those numbers became very, very large.”

United Way is working with local governments, like Horry County, to direct people to the correct resources.

Roof said someone can anonymously submit a request for assistance by calling 2-1-1. She said some programs have limitations, but are still worth a call.

“Depending on the funding, if it’s government funding or federal funding, you can only come dip into that pot once every 12 months,” Roof said. “We just tell people instead of avoiding what that bill’s going to be to go ahead and hit it head on. There’s lots of resources out there.”

Applications for Horry County’s Utility Assistance Program closed in March and applications are being reviewed. Officials said those who qualify will be notified in upcoming weeks.