Hurricane hardships are making the holiday season more challenging for many families in the Southeast still facing months of rebuilding after the destruction caused by Florence and Michael.
“Even though hurricane season is coming to an end, there are many in our state who are still recovering from Hurricane Florence’s devastating impacts,” said Lisa Crawley, a communications specialist with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.
The Human Connections Fund, established more than a decade ago by North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives, allows co-op employees, directors, partners and others in the cooperative network to work together to support those affected by disasters.
“The Human Connections Fund was activated following Hurricane Florence and collected $176,000 in donations, including matching funds from CoBank and significant gifts from CFC,” said Crawley. “So far, through the generosity of our cooperative family, we have funded 56 requests for assistance from cooperative employees who suffered personal hardship in the wake of the storm.
“We are incredibly grateful for the support of numerous individuals and businesses throughout our state and the nation in this true demonstration of the cooperative spirit and the principle of cooperation among cooperatives.”
Helping Helpers Recover
Co-ops are not only aiding staff and members who suffered losses as a result of the storms, they are also helping to rebuild the charities and organizations that communities rely upon during the toughest of times.
Pantego, North Carolina-based Tideland Electric Membership Corp.’s service territory includes the six-county area served by the Salvation Army in nearby Washington.
“The area that we serve was inundated with storm surge from Hurricane Florence,” said Heidi Jernigan Smith, Tideland EMC’s manager of marketing and corporate communications. Smith also serves on an advisory council for the Salvation Army, which operates a retail sales facility in Washington.
“The facility suffered roof damage, there was water damage inside, and we had to close for about two weeks to clean up and make repairs,” said Smith.
The store is now reopened, and business has been brisk as families who lost clothes and household goods refurnish their homes and acquire clothing for the winter months.
“This is the very time of the year where we’re gearing up for biggest fundraising efforts,” said Smith. “Everyone knows the red kettles and the bell-ringing, and it’s our largest food drive season of the year as we try to meet needs for Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter for senior citizens and low-income families.”
Meeting Basic Needs
In November, the Salvation Army launched its annual “Angel Tree” program to help families in its service territory with holiday wish lists. Instead of requests for dolls, athletic equipment and video games, notes submitted have included more essential items.
“The wish items we’re getting are often for bedding to replace what children lost as a result of some sort of damage to their own home—either a roof leak from the hurricane or flood waters,” said Smith.
“Some adults need assistance because they were out of work for quite some time as a result of the storm. So we’re getting requests for clothing, shoes and coats, not just for children but for teens and adults, too,” said Smith.
Other co-ops in the Southeast have responded to similar requests to get an early start on year-end charitable initiatives, in part because the storms exacerbated always-present needs.
Staffers at Newport, North Carolina-based Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative began working on their Project Christmas Cheer initiative in late September, when many families were still in the midst of cleaning up after Hurricane Florence.
Among the first to benefit were students from East Carteret High School. Personal care and toiletry items, stockpiled for visiting crews who helped the co-op recover from power outages, were packed up and donated to a food pantry established to help students. “The pantry provides everything from clothing to clothes detergent and relies solely on donations, which have been generous,” said Lisa Taylor-Galizia, communications director of Carteret Craven EC. “We learned of the school’s project while delivering a Bright Ideas grant to educator Kate Jayne, who teaches exceptional and disabled students at the school.”
Jayne’s students help pack duffel bags each Friday with food and other items for fellow students in need, said Taylor-Galizia. “Many at this school are from co-op services areas that were hit really hard by the hurricane.”
Co-op staffers are among the 30 volunteer application takers who’ve been busy processing Project Christmas Cheer requests since early November. Other staff members will help with deliveries and distribution in the weeks ahead.
“We adopt the entire family and are able to meet a variety of needs in addition to children’s gifts, from blankets and bath towels to coats, work shoes or simply gift cards for fuel or food,” said Taylor-Galizia. “We know this will have extra meaning for our employees and the families we adopt because so many are still struggling financially from Hurricane Florence.”
Hard Work Ahead
Recovery from major storms, particularly those that include widespread flooding, can take months or years, so some of the co-ops involved continue to promote volunteer efforts, including service projects by school, church and civic groups.
“Our motto for our co-op is ‘Real People and Real Power,’” said Tideland EMC’s Smith. “We’re telling people who they should talk to in their counties to find out where you can make a difference.”
The need for people who can devote a weekend, a day, or even several hours to cutting drywall, pulling out flood-soiled insulation and removing debris is expected to continue throughout the winter in some co-op-served communities. And the co-op also knows money is still needed to help local families and organizations they depend upon recover.
Tideland EMC has sold over $6,000 in “Storm Hair Don’t Care” T-shirts to employees of dozens of electric co-ops across the country and plans to expand sales to their local communities to support those efforts.
“We’re doing our own fundraising, we’re going to identify community needs and we’re going to be there,” said Smith. “Co-ops have a long tradition of providing good corporate leadership in the communities we serve and that’s reflective of human leadership. That’s what it’s all about.”
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.