Religious groups aid with recovery for hurricane victims

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) — 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.”