In the words of Pastor Herbert Lowry of Chestnut Street UMC in Lumberton, “Hurricane Matthew left a vast array of destruction, displacement and depression in Robeson County, especially in our community in Lumberton, N.C.”
To several of us residents of the Village of Aversboro, a 55+ retirement community in Garner, that message came in loud and clear – directly from those in need. Working as volunteers at the NCCUMC Disaster Response Call Center in Garner, we spend hours answering phone calls from people desperate for assistance and making plans to help them.
One day in late October, two weeks after Hurricane Matthew drenched the state, a woman from Dare County telephoned the Call Center wanting to help by adopting a family for Christmas. Though the Call Center had not yet set up plans to address this desire to help, by early November a plan was in place to allow folks to adopt many of the 1,500 displaced families who had lost everything and were living in single rooms in motels, funded by FEMA.
Another volunteer in Lumberton went to motels to have these displaced families list their needs. Much to our surprise, the requests were for clothing and bedding: coats, pajamas, tank tops, and comforters. The lists also included a special place for each child to list their “dream” wishes. One of the youngest had written that she wanted a home and a bed.
At the Village of Aversboro, we awaited the name of “our family.” In mid-November, we received word of a family that needed adoption: two parents and four teens. A group of us single, retired ladies went to work.
First, we collected donations from interested retirees; second, we went shopping together to match the requests as to sizes and need. As the age of this group far exceeded the age of the teens (11, 15, 16, and 18), we needed help at the department store to understand some of the things on the list. Though the mother had written that her children would be happy with anything, we went further, adding a few surprises and a few items from the dream list. Yes, we went a little overboard.
Next, we contacted the mother. We agreed to meet with the whole family at a church on Thursday, December 22nd at 3 p.m. When we called Chestnut Street UMC in Lumberton and talked to Youth Pastor Kyle and Pastor Lowry, joyous plans were made for the event. The staff helped make our meeting happen.
On December 22, we loaded three vehicles with wrapped and labeled presents, food for a party, and extras the family did not ask for: a light-up ceramic Christmas tree, a Nativity music box, a toaster oven, and plenty of staples for living in a motel room. The trip down I-95 from Garner was a bit harried as wrecks along the way slowed our pace. We kept the church team notified that we would be late. We were pushing it.
Fortunately, the family was late too, as the mother was kept at work, finishing the work of an employee who quit that day. Mom had lost her job due to the flooding, and had just gotten a new job working at the Marriott so she was hesitant to say she had to leave. However, God is good, and the delay gave us time to set up our party, unload our vehicles, and have everything “just so” for their arrival.
When the family arrived, we introduced ourselves. Since not all contributors were available to travel December 22, we gave the family a photo album with pictures of all the senior ladies (grandmas for the most part) who had joined in the effort. Then the family, taking turns, told us their story.
They got thirty minutes notice of rising river waters and the necessity to get out of their apartment. By the time they put a few basics in backpacks and were leaving their home, the water was up to their waists. They had to wade about ½ mile in that rising water to a gravel road where they waited seven hours to be rescued. Dad was recovering from hip replacement, so mom and the girls had to help him stay upright in the waters. The fifteen-year-old told of being so scared –there were snakes and other dead critters in the water; she said she would never forget that day. They spent nine days in a shelter and since then have been living in a motel room. After many days, they got to return to their apartment and found everything ruined as the water had reached up to the turn in the stairs to the second floor.
Pastor Lowry came into the fellowship hall as they were finishing their story and led the group in a beautiful prayer and blessing for this family. He reminded them that the group helping them were not all Methodists but a combination of every religion and maybe non-religion that lived together in a retirement community.
Although the family seemed a little wary at first since they did not know us, after opening gifts and the eleven-year-old seeing a bicycle from her dream wish list, the smiles began. We assured the mom we would stay with the family until they got settled again in a residence of some kind. We told the girls that when they did get a bed, we would help them get the comforters they had asked for on their dream list.
Pictures were taken, hugs were given, telephone numbers shared, and many thank yous were offered. The youth pastors even made plans with the family to go to the motel and pick up the girls and take them to youth group meetings at the church. We were pleased with that outcome. Our senior singles community wrapped our arms around a family who lost their home and we benefited from the experience.
Recent contacts with the mom indicate they will have to stay in the motel until the first of February. Although she had saved enough money to make a deposit on a trailer, it was not available for two weeks. Due to the delay, she had to ask for her deposit to be returned to pay the $37.00 per night at the motel since her FEMA funds stopped January 7. She was extremely disappointed. We will stay with this family in actions and prayer until they get resettled. In fact, we are checking resources to help them move into a home sooner. (written by Nancy Cope)
Churches interested in longer-term family adoptions (1 year), please contact Jan Thornton-Irvine @ email@example.com. Jan is a retired deacon in full connection who, along with her husband, is a regular volunteer at the NCCUMC Disaster Response Call Center in Garner.