The volunteers at the NAACP-American Red Cross disaster relief center on North Main all share a passion for helping those still in need after the historic flooding of early October.
By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley
Dec. 9, 2015
Career woman. Mother and son. Husband and wife.
They lead separate lives, but the volunteers at the NAACP-American Red Cross disaster relief center on North Main Street all share the desire help those in need after early October’s historic flooding.
The relief center is staffed two at a time by volunteers from the local NAACP and American Red Cross chapters, youth groups, and church groups.
For Patricia Gardner, who found out about the volunteer opportunity through her church, manning the desk is about more than handing out supplies. It’s about making a difference however she can.
Valerie Hagler and her 10-year-old son, Tyler, arrived without knowing what to expect. For them, volunteering is the chance to help those struggling in difficult times. Wearing matching shirts from the youth council where Tyler is vice president, they sat down to get oriented and begin their first shift.
And for the Rev. Otis Outing, a preacher at Rehoboth Baptist Church, volunteering is how he most enjoys spending his time since retirement from DHEC. He came home worn out after unloading carton after carton of bottled water to help set up the center.
“I could tell I would be sore before I even went to bed that night,” he said. But it was a good kind of sore.
The site at 4100 N. Main St. was chosen because of its central location for the more than 1,000 people in the area expected to need help, said Dwight James, executive director of South Carolina’s NAACP branch. It is closed Wednesdays and Sundays but otherwise is open weekdays 12 p.m.-5 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
During and immediately after the flooding, parts of North Main Street and Sunset Boulevard had to be closed. James said that the relief center’s central location made it easier for people in harder-hit neighborhoods like those in the nearby Denny Terrace community to get help.
Along with supplies like the bottled water, James said, the NAACP is working on “a special kind of advocacy” that includes not only offering advice to those who come in but also continuing to offer guidance and follow up with people after they leave.
The volunteers at the North Main center, whether they volunteer once or daily, have a passion to provide relief any way they can to those hurting.
Gardner said she’s always involved with multiple things and has helped out at schools, Harvest Hope Food Bank – wherever she can. And when her two children were in school, if it wasn’t community volunteering, it was dance lessons or Boy Scouts.
“With the love of God in my heart, I’m supposed to help,” Gardner said. “To help, to make things better for someone – it feels good.”
Gardner, who works full time in accounting at the Corrections Department and is a part-time student, said she feels a sense of gratification when she also carves out time to help others.
“I believe that there is always a need in our communities and someone has to step up to do it,” she said.
In contrast, Hagler said she’s been too busy to volunteer in recent years. But in the aftermath of the flooding and after seeing the damage nearby, she said she’s making the time.
“I’m going to be honest, in the past few years I just haven’t had the time,” she said. “But we were there, and we didn’t have any damage really. It felt like the right thing to do.”
Both she and her son said they were grateful they suffered only a small leak after the flood in their Greenview neighborhood home.
“There’s some people who were not as fortunate as I am,” Tyler said. “I really wanted to help.”
They staff the desk on weekends and give out supplies.
And during the week, when it’s tough to find volunteers because of work schedules, you’ll most likely find Outing or his wife, Phillipine, at the center. They’re both retired, but as active members of their local South Carolina NAACP chapter, they were quick to volunteer.
One of them has staffed the relief center every day except for one since its opening Nov. 6. Outing said he has seen people who have lost everything and has helped direct them to the appropriate services.
“It has to be rough when you have to turn to different agencies and they’re not giving you enough help to make you whole, just enough to keep you going,” he said. “When you hear about that, it just kind of touches you. To think, man, how do you start over?”
Outing said he’s often asked why he doesn’t get another job in retirement. He said he’s been offered jobs, but “I just want to do stuff that will make people’s lives a little bit easier.”
He remembers one man who came to the relief center just to say thank you to the volunteers for helping the community get back on its feet.
“It made me feel good about what I’m going,” Outing said. “That’s rewarding.”
James said that one woman, upset because she hadn’t gotten help elsewhere, started crying after he helped her.
“That’s just one example,” he said. “How many are out there?”
Now, the focus is shifting to helping people who might not have discovered damage to their homes and businesses right after the storm. “As we move into long-term recovery, it’s a whole new ball game,” James said.