Harvest Church hardly looked like a place of worship on Thursday morning.
A small green sign with the name of the church sat out by the road, just off S.C. 9, and a large wooden cross sat at the corner of the building. But everywhere else, people were running and forklifts were beeping as members of this and other churches in the Green Sea area loaded boxes of water, non-perishable food and toiletries into trucks and trailers.
Harvest Church is, since Tuesday, the central distribution center for Hearts With Hands, an Asheville, N.C.-based organization that is aiding those flooded out as the waters from Hurricane Matthew swell rivers in northeast South Carolina.
“We’ve found the most successful way to help these communities is to go into the local churches,” said Winston Parrish, a field operations director for Hearts With Hands. “Not necessarily any denomination, but any church that has a group of people in need or know people in need.”
The sanctuary of Harvest Church does not have pews, and Pastor Neal Watson said that flexibility made it an ideal space to begin staging care packages for those without power and without homes. The cavernous room was cut through the middle by a long row of tables that had become an assembly line, as volunteers packed boxes with Cheez-Its, chocolate pudding cups or granola bars. Two black and gold banners, one saying “KING” and the other “SAVIOR,” hung on the back wall as volunteers listened to gospel and Christian rock.
“I really didn’t have to do anything but say ‘Yeah, come on,’ ” Watson said.
“God has a purpose and it’s awesome seeing God’s people come together and minister like this,” he added. Because the sanctuary is full, the church will hold a non-denominational ceremony on its front lawn Sunday.
Many of the dozens of volunteers in the church Friday had come from the local community, though not necessarily from Watson’s congregation. Parents and children alike zipped around, most in bright green Hearts With Hands T-shirts, packing trucks or lifting pallets of water.
Kim Graham, a teacher at Green Sea Floyds Middle School, spent Thursday helping hand out care packages door to door. She said her group found many stranded, thirsty animals and elderly residents who were by themselves.
“It was humbling,” she said.
Graham, who works with the middle school student council, said some of her students had come by to help.
“You do what’s right, regardless, and you don’t expect anything in return,” she said. “That’s what I teach my kids.”
Graham was worried about other students, though, and said that for many, school was one of few chances to get a regular, daily meal.
Shaun Elliott, a salesman for U.S. Foods, said he had been calling some contacts to ask for food donations. He said many do not understand the devastation in Nichols, which is entirely flooded by overflow from the Lumber River.
“People have no clue until you show them the pictures,” Elliott said, “Until you walk through water up to your chest and you’re trying to get people into a one-man boat that doesn’t barely float.”
The church is currently running on generators from Hearts with Hands, because power is normally routed to the area through Nichols. Harvest Church is one of the few powered structures in the area, and Elliott said that on Thursday night a woman had come by, asking to use an outlet. She was trying to power a nebulizer for her young son, Elliott said.
The child had not had an asthma treatment in four days.
Other families remain stranded. One group loaded a trailer to take out to Fair Bluff, an area that volunteers were planning on accessing by boat.
Throughout Friday afternoon, cars were pulling up to the front of Harvest Church, and volunteers hauled packages into their trunks. Holly Keane, music director at nearby Green Sea Baptist Church, smiled broadly at one man waiting by his bronze Ford F-150 as she carried plastic bags full of shampoo and snack foods to the truck.
“Hey good looking, where do you want me to put this?” she said.
Keane, another native of the area, grew up near Nichols. “Those are the streets you rode your bike on. Those are the parks you played in. It’s sad,” she said. “I can’t remember anything that even compares.”
However, she said the community effort was a positive offshoot of the natural disaster.
“It’s helping us grow,” she said.
Those interested in contributing easy-open non-perishable food items, water and toiletries can bring donations to Harvest Church at 4619 S.C. 9 in Green Sea, or to the Wal-Mart Supercenters at 151 Myrtle Ridge Dr. and 2709-A Church St. in Conway.