A Community Pitches In: Recovering After Hurricane Matthew
The community came together after Hurricane Matthew, but the recovery is far from over and the needs are still great.
“In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics.” – John F. Kennedy
Always one for poignant quotes, John Kennedy’s words may ring truer today than ever before. His words cut through decades to challenge us. What does it mean to be bound as a community, despite times of domestic turmoil and a bitterly divisive political campaign? In the end, are we able to show goodwill and generosity to our neighbors, no matter what we believe or what signs are in our yard?
The flooding that ravished areas of North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew was our community’s opportunity to rise to Kennedy’s challenge. As the aftermath become clear, we saw that $1.5 billion of damages were done to more than 100,000 homes and buildings in the state. It was clear that our neighbors needed us. Residents in some towns clung to posts, rode boats down streets and watched water destroy everything they owned. It was our call to come forth and ignore political debates to respond to human need.
And we responded, indeed.
As families lost everything, schools, companies and people throughout the region did what they could to ease the suffering. While The United Way and American Red Cross were powerful agents in mobilizing the nation and providing relief support, there are unsung heroes in our own backyard who rose to Kennedy’s charge.
Here are just a few examples of the way people responded to help flood victims, a small representation of the hundreds.
When Chad Porter’s mother called to tell him the house down the road from her had 3 to 5 feet of water in it and it was still rising, Porter felt utterly useless and scared. He couldn’t get his mother out and his hometown of Lumberton was being destroyed while he watched from relatively unscathed Wilmington. A motivational speaker who has been through many challenges in his life, he has never been one to sit idly by.
“I woke up Tuesday morning and I had this feeling that I had to do something,” Porter remembers. “I had a gut feeling, like I had to, that I could do, something, anything.”
So Porter created a Facebook page called Recover Lumberton and began to ask for donations from his Wilmington community. With a box truck donated by Realtor Jessica Edwards and the power of social media, Porter’s goal was to fill one truck within the week to deliver to Lumberton residents.
By noon on Wednesday, the truck was full. Donations were dropped off faster than Porter could sort them, and people who had come to donate stayed all day to help organize items. By the end of Wednesday, a second truck, also donated, was halfway filled.
“We had five box trucks completely full by Friday,” Porter shares. “I hated to cut off donations but it was so overwhelming. Our community was simply amazing.”
Days after starting his campaign, Porter and his team delivered the goods to emergency shelters at one local church and Lumberton Senior High School. Porter estimates that when he arrived with the trucks, the amount of goods available at the shelter tripled.
“It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life,” he says.
On a Mission
The Baptists on a Mission organization launched a full-scale plan to help with long-term recovery across the area, including Lumberton. Baptists on a Mission responds to worldwide needs, but as the group is based in Cary, the flooding this time was in its own back yard.
Baptists on a Mission sprang into action with 13 recovery operation sites across the state, in Robeson, Edgecombe, Lenoir and Bladen counties and other areas. The organization housed, fed and provided guidance for flood victims. As of the writing of this article, 10 of those were still functioning, solely supported by Baptists on a Mission as the Red Cross ceased on-the-ground assistance.
“These are people who have a need and in many instances have lost everything they own to floodwaters,” says Tom Vannoy, state recovery disaster coordinator for Baptists on a Mission. “They couldn’t begin again without help.”
Vannoy says that his organization was able to help as many people as it did due to the help of hundreds of volunteers. They had three kitchens that produced up to 80,000 meals a day, and they delivered food donated through the Red Cross to victims who couldn’t make it to a shelter. On one weekend alone, Vannoy counted 855 volunteers who came out to help. He says he couldn’t begin to count how many total volunteer hours made Baptists on a Mission’s work possible.
“The sad part is that this is going to be the new normal for the [victims], it will never be back to the way it was,” he says. “We are letting them know there is hope. We are ministering to the families to help them understand what has happened.”
Baptists on a Mission has begun to implement its long-term assistance plan and will be in eastern North Carolina for at least two more years, helping victims remove debris and repair their houses.
Small Examples of Big Giving
Novant Health in Brunswick County collected donations of canned goods, cleaning supplies, water, toiletries and paper products that the Brunswick County Sherriff’s Office helped distribute to hurricane victims. Their regularly scheduled Pumpkin Decorating Contest turned it into a silent auction to raise money for flood victims. In the end, they were able to donate a trailer of goods and $480. Some hospital members slept at the hospital two nights straight to ensure there were caregivers throughout the storm.
“Hurricane Matthew had a significant impact on our state, and our team members stepped up to help by donating supplies to help the victims as well as financial support,” says Shelbourn Stevens, president and chief operating officer of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center. “I am very proud of the way Novant Health team members step up to help the communities we serve, no matter the crisis. In this particular situation, our local area was very lucky to experience minimal damage, so our team members were anxious to help others who received greater impacts from the storm.”
In local schools around the region, children, teachers and parents brought donations of canned goods, clothes and supplies.
Kristin Edwards, a teacher at Belville Elementary School, organized donations of a plethora of goods to the Leland Fire & Rescue for distribution on behalf of the school.
“After Hurricane Matthew hit, my family sought out ways to help in our community,” Edwards says. “We didn’t even as much as lose power, where so many others lost everything. We felt incredibly lucky and blessed. We wanted to help our community.”
In her search for local relief efforts, Edwards says she happened upon a Facebook post by Leland Fire & Rescue. “I shared this information with the staff at Belville a couple of times and offered to collect and take any donations from the staff,” she says. “I was delighted, though not at all surprised, at the donations that appeared. For several days, I was greeted by bags of linens, food, clothing, etc. in my classroom that kind, thoughtful Belville Good Samaritans left for me and my children to bring to the firehouse. It was a very uplifting, humanity-affirming week. It made me proud of my community.”
At Charter Day School (CDS), the need was even more immediate. Three Charter Day School families and seven Columbus Charter School families experienced loss during the hurricane. Without hesitation, word was shared and donations accepted. CDS parents raised about $1,000 and evenly disbursed the money among the three families, says CDS Social Worker Janet Tucker. The school also received donations from parents, including household cleaning items, toiletries, diapers, food items and more. Charter Day School and the Maco Depot Subway provided two weeks worth of snacks and school lunches to one of the families that had three children. The football and the cheerleading teams also provided support to one particular family, including assisting with their repair of a roof, purchasing a new stove and helping with the cleanup of the house. For the Columbus Charter School families, parents raised $1,160 and donated Walmart gift cards to be disbursed to the families.
Unfortunately, however, much of the immediate disaster response has slowed, while the fact remains that flood victims will need help and assistance for years to come. Currently, the most needed task is cleaning and gutting houses irrevocably damaged by water.
“Most people around Wilmington and the rest of North Carolina have kind of forgotten about it,” Porter says. “But it is going to take years…. It will make their community stronger and I am proud of what this community did. But we barely made a dent in what their needs are.”