North Carolina has endured a series of hurricanes in recent years, extending recovery and relief efforts for the state as eastern communities have faced back-to-back natural disasters. Last year’s Hurricane Florence brought record flooding to southeastern North Carolina following the recent devastation from Hurricane Matthew. As communities continue to rebuild, this year has already seen Hurricane Dorian affect the state’s most eastern communities.
This is unfortunately a familiar story for our eastern communities: as relief and recovery for some communities begins again for the most recent storm, while continuing for the previous ones.
After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the state turned to the Golden LEAF Foundation to help distribute recovery funding to communities to repair and replace infrastructure and damaged equipment. Following last year’s record flooding with Florence, the Foundation again helped the state with recovery monies – this time by also distributing approximately $5.4 million from the NC Hurricane Florence Disaster Relief Fund. This fund drew from generous donations by individuals and corporations following the storm to help provide survivors with home repair, temporary housing, utility, and rental assistance, and replacement of personal property including furniture, clothing, tools, and equipment.
Through the relief fund, the Foundation awards grants to local outreach personnel to help identify and address needs. For teams such as Pastors Anthony and Dawn Gibson, co-directors of Genesis 457 Community Development Corporation, the work can be equally eye-opening and confounding.
“Disasters challenge how we look at poverty and what being ‘in need’ means and looks like,” said Dawn Gibson, noting the affordable housing crisis in the community did not start with Florence. “There was a need for 1,900 homes before the storm and now there is a need for almost 4,000 homes.”
Genesis 457, with the help of the Golden LEAF funding, has worked to repair 45 homes and to assist 267 households and 658 individuals.
“A lot of work done in the poorest of communities would not have been possible if not for Golden LEAF,” said Dawn Gibson. “What was happening before the storm, is amplified after the storm.”
The team at Genesis 457, which includes two part-time caseworkers, received $457,000 through the N.C. Hurricane Florence Relief Fund to provide home repair, rental assistance, utility assistance, and replacement household items for survivors in Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties.
A recipient of relief support, storm survivor Fannie Irving of Jones County, was able to return to her house of 44 years after being displaced for 10 months. Genesis 457 provided materials, flooring, fixtures and replacement furniture to help her get back into her home.
“Words don’t even express how happy I was – and thankful to God I am – for getting me back into my home,” said Irving. “I shed tears sometimes I am so happy and thankful. I want to thank everyone I know – and don’t know – that thought enough of me to come and help.”
Damage from the hurricane was historic, with estimates soaring to $18 billion. Despite so much work to be done, recovery efforts have illustrated the resiliency and strength of these communities with volunteers, local leaders, and relief workers all coming together to help bring these neighborhoods back from the brink.
Frederick and Nancy Hausman of Fairfield Harbour in Craven County near New Bern had lived in their home for 18 years. Their house had an inch and a half of water in it. The garage had an astounding 31 inches of water.
“We had over $100,000 in damages,” said Frederick Hausman. “We didn’t have a mortgage, so no flood insurance.”
The Hausmans were displaced for months, and lived with two different sets of friends before they finally moved home to live in a FEMA trailer from March until July. Genesis 457 provided the Hausmans with plumbing, materials and flooring.
“Once they finished the flooring, we started moving in slowly,” said Frederick Hausman. “We lost a lot of belongings and are moving back in one box at a time. We both have been fighting depression over the disaster.”
In Jones County, Jones County RISE is working with multiple partners to respond to community needs. An unmet needs committee meets every other week to pull together organizations such as Endeavors, Umcor, STEP, and Catholic Charities. They choose between 10-15 cases a week.
“The reality is we are looking at a three- to five-year recovery process,” said Scott Murphy, executive director of MXNetwork and Chairman of the Unmet Needs Committee of Jones County RISE. “The community is tired. We are encouraging people to stay.”
With a $225,000 Golden LEAF grant for hurricane relief, Jones County RISE has worked to repair damaged homes and replace personal property such as furniture and appliances.
Baptists On Mission focus on the use of volunteers for labor to help survivors. The organization recently opened a 200-bed facility in Duplin County to house large groups of volunteers. The facility contains beds, a commercial kitchen, a fully stocked supply room with materials, tools, and all the amenities volunteers would need.
Baptists On Mission received $200,000 through the NC Hurricane Florence Disaster Relief Program to provide tree removal, temporary roof repair, and remove damaged materials from flooded homes to support survivors in Duplin, Pender, Robeson, and Craven counties. The group has assisted 2,900 individuals and repaired 150 homes.
Baptists on Mission Missions Mobilization Consultant Paul Langston feels blessed to be able to help so many survivors.
“Golden LEAF has been a big help in a lot of places,” said Langston. “Some people have been out of their homes since Hurricane Matthew which means being displaced for three years now. We have been blessed to help hundreds of people get back into their homes because of this funding.”
Though recovery work has been challenging, the efforts of disaster relief teams has been nothing short of inspiring.
“You can’t help but love Eastern North Carolina,” said Dawn Gibson, co-director of Genesis 457. “It doesn’t matter where you are in life, everyone works together – long-term recovery groups, community, churches. Even though a lot still has to be done, a lot has been done towards recovery. Partnerships have really made the difference.”