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Where wealth, want live side by side

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On a quiet pond miles from the resorts of Hilton Head island, which is the best-known part of this coastal county, Annie Mae Cooper gets a bite. She pulls the end of her long bamboo pole skyward, lifting a crab out of the pond. Then she takes out the hook, plops the crab into her plastic bucket on top of a few small fish, and walks along the muddy bank toward some visitors. Broom straw and sea oats nearby bend gently in the wind.

Though of retirement age, she doesn't fish just for the sport. With a monthly income of only about $345 (Supplemental Security Income [SSI] plus $22 in food stamps), her home-grown vegetables and any fish she catches help stretch her food supply. In her spare time, Mrs. Cooper does church work or helps a neighbor with chores like washing clothes.

This widowed mother of nine children, now all grown, is upbeat about life.

``If you trust in God, God will provide,'' she says, resuming her fishing. ``I got my head up out of the water. I'm not starving. I'm not destitute.''

Then she adds: ``But life could have been better.''

For many residents of Beaufort County, life has not been easy. But it is better today than in the late 1960s when verified cases of severe malnutrition here shocked the nation. Soon after that, the federal food-stamp program was greatly expanded. It has alleviated much of the hunger in America, according to follow-up reports. But a recent Harvard University study contends that many poor families across the nation run out of the stamps before the end of the month. As many as 20 million people may go hungry part of the month, the report contends.

Now, as Congress and the President wrestle over what cuts to make in domestic programs, some of them directly affecting the poor, the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line (15.2) is higher it has been in any year since 1966. (Poverty is defined as income of less than $10,178 for a family of four in 1983, latest year for which data are available.)

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