Acts of Kindness
Before, during and after Hurricane Florence ravished the coast of North Carolina in September, so many people stepped in to help.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Leland appears to be a town severed.
“Leland is a like a Dickensonian tale of two cities right now,” says Reverend Dr. Doug Cushing of The Bridge Presbyterian Church. “Some communities were untouched by the storm and are pretty much back to normal, while other parts of the town were absolutely devastated and remain that way.”
However, that division is helping the community form a new bond, Cushing says. “In a sense Leland is still an emerging community. And this storm has brought us together and given us an identity.”
In Leland and southeastern North Carolina, there are hundreds of stories about neighbors helping neighbors before, during and after the storm. As Cushing says, “People are listening to their better angels of compassion,” and acts generosity, kindness and mercy are free-flowing.
Even before the storm, people found a way to contribute. Chris LaCoe, local business owner and former franchisee of several Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries, donated hamburgers, hot dogs, buns, bread, chicken breasts and more to first responders on the Thursday before the storm hit.
While many decided to evacuate the area before the hurricane hit, LaCoe and Brunswick Forest Realty agent Braddock were two of the few who chose to stay and help out in the community during the storm. “I’ve been through numerous storms, but nothing quite like Florence,” Braddock says.
Braddock became somewhat of a local Facebook newscaster, providing video updates during the storm for those who had left the community, in order to keep his neighbors abreast on what was happening. “What they were seeing on a national perspective was one thing, but they weren’t sure what was happening on a micro level within the specific area of Leland,” he says. He also sent out text updates on what was taking place in real time leading up to the storm. He says he received a ton of responses via Facebook from folks who were extremely grateful for his informative postings.
Everything changed once the hurricane really hit Leland on Saturday night. Braddock remembers waking up on Sunday morning to waterlogged streets, after the worst of the rains made it almost impossible to drive anywhere.
That morning, Braddock and LaCoe, who owns a lifted truck that made it easier for him to navigate the flood waters, drove around Brunswick Forest looking at the damage that had struck their town the night before.
While driving, LaCoe and Braddock came upon an elderly couple who had driven into an area of water on their way to get medication, stalling their car. LaCoe, Braddock and a couple of other gentlemen were able to push the car to higher ground and get the couple to a dry location. With LaCoe’s truck, they were able to take the gentleman to get medication for his wife and bring him back home. The duo continued to take people to and from their homes to get medication, deliver gas or help out in any additional ways they could. The two men were just a sample of the hundreds who helped save lives as flood waters rose that day.
As the days passed, the devastation became more apparent. Cushing and his congregation of The Bridge Presbyterian Church were immediately reactive to community needs following the storm. The church, which was already heavily involved in missions throughout North Brunswick County before Hurricane Florence, reached out to three organizations with which they already had partnerships to identify the most urgent needs in the community. Then they jumped right in to help.
From Brunswick County Streetreach, a nonprofit organization that aids the local homeless population, they learned that the number of homeless people in Brunswick County tripled after the storm. The Bridge’s Plastic Bags Mission Project team doubled up their efforts to crochet sleep mats from plastic grocery bags for the homeless. The church also donated money and a new refrigerator and freezer to Streetreach.
From Matthew’s Ministry, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger, they learned that their needs transcended food. A lot of children, especially those whose homes were destroyed, had a need for school supplies and other personal goods. The church had a supply drive for children at Town Creek Elementary School and other local elementary schools.
The money that was raised during the drives was given to principals in the form of gift cards to distribute as the principals saw fit.
Brunswick Family Assistance Executive Director Stephanie Bowen tasked Cushing and his congregation with helping find new food distribution locations in the Leland area. “Our church got very involved with food distribution for the first month after the storm,” Cushing says. “We found locations, helped distribute food and helped sort and distribute donations from all across the country at their main distribution center.”
Cushing worked with Town of Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman and Braddock, in conjunction with Josh London of State Farm Insurance, to secure a post-storm distribution site inside the commercial village at the front of Brunswick Forest. London was able to obtain a hot dog stand in order to provide free hot dogs alongside the non-perishable foods being given out to those in need at the distribution site.
Cushing says he could go on and on about the acts of kindness of his congregation members. One family opened their home to their next-door neighbors, a family of three, who lost their home. The church also has raised money for that family, has purchased new appliances for their home and is scheduling a work day to help them rebuild.
As Leland continues to recover from the effects of the hurricane, Cushing and the church’s three drives are still ongoing; they continue to collect school supplies for children in need and provide gift cards to Streetreach, as well as continuing to help out with Brunswick Family Assistance distributions.
As for the next phase of hurricane recovery, Cushing is learning from the national organization Presbyterian Disaster Assistance the steps it takes to be a local church committed to long-term recovery. The organization offers workshops for pastors, first responders and key community leaders on resilience and emotional and spiritual health, which he hopes to offer to the community sometime in the near future.
To be a resilient, cohesive community it takes people like Cushing, LaCoe, Braddock, Bozeman, London and so many others to band together and do what they can. Even though each person might consider their contributions small, it is through collective efforts that Leland and other North Carolina communities are able to build themselves back up from the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence into a town