LUMBERTON — Since Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters have receded, faith-based organizations have flooded Robeson County, looking to lend a hand to those who have lost everything in the wake of the Oct. 8 storm.
Countless groups representing various religions and denominations have arrived, mainly focusing their efforts on hard hit areas of West Lumberton and South Lumberton. At no cost, they are gutting flood victims’ homes, clearing debris and spreading a message of faith in a world where a day of rain can wash away a lifetime of hard work and memories.
Among the groups is Minnesota-based Nechama Jewish Response to Disaster, which has been in Lumberton for about three weeks. So far the volunteers have helped more than a dozen families with their homes. In addition to their own volunteers, they work with volunteers from Americorps and CCC, according to Dorothy Maples, Nechama disaster relief coordinator.
Maples said the nonprofit provides services free to disaster victims.
“Right now our current focus is making sure we’re getting out the mold and getting out the wet material so the homes can dry out,” Maples said.
Maples said although every disaster is different, they all have similarities. The basis of their mission comes from their name Nechama, which comes from a root word meaning comfort.
“Of course devastation is a very personal thing to the people who are directly involved,” Maples said. “We definitely want to make sure we’re doing our best to assist in any way that we can.”
N.C. Baptist Men has logged more than 9,000 volunteer days in Robeson County, cared for 120 children, made 3,100 chaplaincy contacts, prepared 440,000 hot meals, cleaned more than 230 homes and washed, dried and folded 2,000 loads of laundry. The teams have stripped homes down to the frames, cleared mold and repaired roofs.
Bringing with them a mobile kitchen with large appliances fit for a commercial kitchen, a mobile unit containing six showers, a rolling laundry mat, and a communications unit and more, N.C. Baptist Men set up at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton where volunteers have been sleeping in the church’s gymnasium.
When the group arrived, its first mission was to feed people, said Bill Fogarty, disaster relief team leader. Fogarty estimates that they were providing up to 17,000 meals each day in Robeson County, with help from volunteers from Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia. The group cooked food that the Red Cross delivered to shelters and feeding centers for people who were displaced or couldn’t cook without power or water.
“We had six kitchens operational in North Carolina in the first two weeks after the flood. We’ve served nearly half a million meals,” Fogarty said.
Fogarty said he’s “confident” the group will help rebuild homes too, but those details haven’t been worked out.
N.C. Baptist Men has a 52,000-square-foot facility in Red Springs that can house more than 200 mission volunteers.
“We train our volunteers to remember that the people they work with will never return to normal. They have to discover a new normal,” said Gaylon Moss, volunteerism and disaster relief coordinator. “Nothing is going to be the same for most of these affected people no matter what. It’s going to be different — emotionally, spiritually, physically, economically, all those things are components of a disaster this large scale.”
N.C. Baptist Men has worked on several floods over the last year, including in South Carolina in October 2015, and earlier this year in Louisiana twice, Missouri, and West Virginia.
“Our primary focus is carrying the good news of Jesus Christ,” said Tom Vannoy, recovery coordinator. “We found that through what we do through recovery and relief, people just question why people care that much to travel that far to do the work that, a lot of the times you can’t pay people to do, like crawl around under homes through mud and things of that nature.”
The Islamic Center of Lumberton contributed to storm relief efforts with drinking water, hot food, hygiene kits, clothing and offering support to those affected by Hurricane Matthew. As well as catering to the immediate needs of storm victims, members of the center set up bounce houses and activities for children on a number of occasions.
In addition to the local efforts by Muslims, Islamic Relief USA sent in more than a dozen representatives from all over the country to help out. In Pembroke, at Purnell Swett High School, Muslims from California, Oregon, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Florida came together to help the storm victims.
Christian Aid Ministries, an Ohio-based Amish and Mennonite organization, has sent volunteers to feed flood victims and help clear their homes.
The Loaves and Fishes Food Kitchen set up shop for two weeks at the Bill Sapp Recreation Center in Lumberton, where three meals a day were provided to shelter residents and others. The kitchen then moved to the Riverside Church of God in West Lumberton for two weeks, according to Atlee Miller, the kitchen manager for the final week the mobile kitchen provided hot meals daily to the general public.
The kitchen is still at Riverside Church, but is being used to feed members of the Rapid Response Team sent by Christian Aid Ministries, said Miller.
According to Miller, a different group of between 13 and 18 volunteer Amish and Mennonite men and women from different parts of the country — including Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois — have worked in the kitchen in the month since Hurricane Matthew.
“We have a lot of fun doing this,” Miller said. “We like meeting people, and in addition to serving meals we also distribute Christian literature while visiting an area.
“There is a lot of hurting when people have lost their homes,” he said. “We try to listen, comfort and encourage them. We do what we can.”
Miller said that the Loaves and Fishes Food Kitchen has been in operation for less than two years. Since it responded to its first disaster, about 21,000 meals have been served, he said.
Wendell Hollinger, a landscaper from Lancaster, Pa., who has been heading up the local team of Amish and Mennonite rapid responders, estimates there are about 60 volunteers helping to clean up in Robeson County. Volunteers who will renovated are expected to arrive early December, he said.
“This work is a channel by which Amish and Mennonites can be a witness for Jesus Christ,” he said.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865. Sarah Willets and Michael Gellatly contributed to this report.