The first tree fell around 11 a.m. Saturday, crashing into the yard of Richard and Lisa Hall’s Orangeburg home.
Four more massive pines followed in short succession, jabbing into the Halls’ bathroom, nearly crushing their carport, leaving 10 holes in the house’s roof. Neighbors’ trees fell, too. Power poles snapped. The neighborhood looked like “a war zone,” Lisa Hall said.
The next morning, in rolled Billy Robinson and a chainsaw-wielding crew of volunteers from the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church. They sawed giant limbs, pulled them off the Halls’ house and laid tarp on the roof.
The volunteers were “a godsend,” Hall said, and by the end of the day, her anxiety had given way to smiles and laughter shared among her neighbors and helpers.
“You see people hollow-eyed ... and wore out, and then you give them a sense of hope,” said Robinson, a disaster relief volunteer through the state United Methodist conference for 11 years, responding to disasters ranging from hurricanes to tornadoes to ice storms across the state and the nation. “It makes them be able to see, ‘OK, we can get through this, and God cares.’”
In the early days of Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath, volunteers are tackling some of the immediate needs – debris removal, cleaning supplies, food – and starting to assess the longer-term recovery needs of communities all along the South Carolina coast and miles inland.
But with destruction plaguing areas of the Southeast far beyond South Carolina, storm survivors and volunteer organizations might not be able to rely on much help – both in human capital and financial donations – flowing in from out of state.
Volunteer groups “are spread pretty thin” in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, said Natasha Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the United Way Association of South Carolina. “They aren’t able to deploy as many people to one location.”
That’s why, Jenkins said, “there is a greater need for the local citizens in a community to mobilize” on recovery efforts close to home.
Robinson, of North, and his crew worked in nearby Orangeburg in the days after the hurricane.
In other areas along the coast, the network of United Methodist volunteers is joined by others, such as the 16 volunteer chainsaw crews dispatched this week by the S.C. Baptist Convention, along with four feeding units, at least seven shower units, assessment teams and other immediate-relief services.
Tim Clark of Lexington was part of a seven-person Baptist volunteer group that drove to St. George on Wednesday to remove a downed tree from an elderly couple’s yard.
“God provides for me, and I hate to see someone else that’s been affected by a storm or whatever,” Clark said. “It’s a way of giving back and showing God’s love. That’s what we’re instructed to do, is love one another. That’s why we do it.”
There are many hurricane-hit areas that volunteers haven’t even been able to access yet to assess damage and help meet needs. And some areas are still bracing for additional flooding and damage as rivers crest this weekend.
Volunteer organizations in the Horry County area, for instance, have put their operations on hold in anticipation of flooding to come, said Carson Carroll, director of the United Way’s state service commission.
“It’s too early for us to accept spontaneous volunteer groups,” said Lucy Woodhouse, president of the Black River United Way, based in Georgetown.
But groups like the United Methodist conference will be ready to step in as soon as they’re able – and they’ll be there for the long haul, they say.
“The church is uniquely focused to keep helping them, but also to keep their plight alive and say, ‘There’s still a need,’” said Matt Brodie, the disaster response coordinator for the United Methodist conference. “We’re really known for being there until the end.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
How to give and get help
Looking for ways to volunteer? The United Way Association of South Carolina coordinates the website www.volunteersc.org, which helps match prospective volunteers to organizations seeking helpers.
Carson Carroll, director of United Way’s state service commission, also recommends that folks reach out directly to established volunteer organizations, including churches and nonprofit groups, in their own communities.
Looking for ways to give? The United Way recommends donating money, rather than goods. One option is the One SC Fund, which was established through the Central Carolina Community Foundation after last year’s historic floods but is doing additional fundraising in the wake of the hurricane. You can give online at www.yourfoundation.org.
Another option is to text “UNITEDSC” to 41444, which will guide you to an online giving process through the United Way.
Looking for help? Call “211” or visit www.sc211.org for a clearinghouse of information on receiving volunteer and material assistance.
A couple of specific routes to seek help include the crisis cleanup hotline for homeowners seeking assistance, 1-800-451-1954; and the disaster distress hotline, for those in need of mental and emotional care, 1-800-985-5990.