Aisha McNeil calls Seven Oaks Park a much-needed home away from home as her family copes with the aftermath of their flooded residence.
“As soon as we walked in the door, we were taken under their wings,” she said of the 30-member staff and dozens of volunteers aiding those brought to the recreation center in the St. Andrews area.
McNeil and husband Chambers are among 70 Lexington County residents staying in the shelter Thursday, most of whom arrived after the lower Saluda River pushed into their homes because of record rainfall over the weekend.
It’s the first time the 42-year-old park has served as a disaster shelter, working in partnership with the Red Cross.
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“We think of this as the true meaning of a community center – serving the community,” said Elizabeth Taylor, executive director of the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission.
Boxes of clothes, bedding and canned food line hallways, cots turn a gymnasium into a sleeping area and unexpected meals are brought to the cafeteria to feed those forced to stay indefinitely.
“Our community just embraced this, just opened their arms to help,” Taylor said.
Long-time park volunteer Don Syvestre cheers the outpouring of support. “I’ve never seen spirits so high,” he said. “This has really brought people together.”
The McNeils aren’t sure what their future holds after leaving their rented West Columbia home.
“We’re clueless,” he said. “We’ve never been through nothing like this.”
But his wife is certain of one thing.
“We’re so impressed by what’s happened here that we want to settle in this area,” she said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483