Distribution sites popped up all across Onslow County following the devastation of Hurricane Florence.
Through their efforts thousands in the community have the necessary items - including food and clothing - to keep them going.
‘The donations kept coming in’
As Jayanna Wiblitizhouser sat in her car waiting for food and supplies outside of the Swansboro Rotary Civic Center on Monday, she was struggling to come to terms with the fate of her home in Emerald Isle.
“I have to move,” she said as she waited with her friend, Patsy Ashley.
“FEMA declared everything 100 percent lost, but then I looked online yesterday and they said I was ineligible for help.”
The women, who found the center on Facebook, were one of nearly a dozen cars in line shortly after noon. They were stocking up on food and supplies for six people and four pets to get through the next few days.
“I have marsh mud in my house and water came up about a foot and a half,” Wiblitizhouser said of her home’s damage. “I lost everything. I didn’t expect them to replace everything 100 percent, but some help would be nice.”
The relief effort at the civic center is the culmination of five local organizations including the Swansboro Rotary Club, the Town of Swansboro, Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce, Swansboro Methodist Church and One Harbor Church.
Those seeking supplies fill out a sheet from their car and volunteers ‘shop’ the items inside and load them up. The shelter has cleaning supplies, pillows, blankets, canned foods, water, fresh fruit, bread and diapers.
Organizer Jennifer Davis said the idea for the relief center began as an idea on a whiteboard early Tuesday morning and after making calls to churches, other organizations and rounding up volunteers they opened the doors on Thursday.
Since then, they have served nearly 2,000 people.
“It’s been amazing. I’m not really sure what we pictured other than we knew what we needed to do,” Davis said. “The donations kept coming in and everyone has just been incredibly generous.”
In addition to offering supplies, the center has a medical team canvassing the area doing wellness checks and making sure that everyone’s different needs are taken care of, including taking prescriptions to be filled.
A cleanup crew is also working out of the center traveling around with chainsaws and tarps to assist with roof and tree damage. They’re distributing one tarp per family and have already given out an estimated 1,100 to 1,200 tarps since last week.
“We get people on a list and try to prioritize the list. If there’s a tree on your house and we can handle it, we’ll get it off,” Jennifer Davis said, adding that volunteers with chainsaws or the ability to tarp roofs are still needed.
There have been about 200 volunteers at the center each day and more than once they’ve had to turn away volunteers.
The center is still in need of supplies, specifically size five diapers, peanut butter and jelly and other foods that only need water to cook and they’ve set up an Amazon registry for people to easily donate online.
“We intend to be here until next Sunday or until the kids go back to school,” Davis said. “We really want to make sure our children are fed.”
As the need diminishes for supplies in that area Davis said they will be distributed to the places where they’re needed most.
‘It’s here for everyone’
Providence Baptist Church in Holly Ridge has served hundreds of people since opening the doors to their relief center at 325 Sound Road on Saturday.
“We’ve had a lot of people come through here. It’s very humbling to see the need that’s in this area,” said Holly Ridge Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Stanley, who is serving as a volunteer.
Those in need can get canned foods, pasta, snacks and there’s even a small section of children’s toys.
Gathering up supplies for her adult children and grandson who suffered damage in Wilmington, Jean Bly was also dealing with damage at her Holly Ridge home.
“My shingles came off, so water leaked into about a third of my house, so two of my rooms are not livable, but it’s ok. I still have a roof over my head, I can cook and shower. A lot of people got a lot more damage than I did,” Bly said.
The center is still in need of cleaning supplies and items like rakes, shovels, tarps and facemasks. All donations can be brought to the center.
“Cleaning supplies are the main thing people are coming in for,” said Holly Ridge Mayor Anita Dingler, who is also working as a volunteer.
“It’s those things you don’t really think of… (the center) is for the town of Holly Ridge, but it’s also for the surrounding communities. It’s here for everyone that’s south of Onslow County.”
Addressing needs of the future
Those in need of a hot meal can still take advantage of the Salvation Army and the Red Cross mobile units, which are serving at various locations around Onslow County.
“We’ve been feeding since the Monday after the storm,” said Jon-Phil Winter with the Salvation Army.
Winter stressed that the effort to provide assistance will be ongoing and the organization will begin working with residents who have needs beyond food.
“As we move beyond the need for food people will have needs for utilities and rent,” he said. “Many people have been out of work during this time and will find themselves coming up short, so as we move forward people just really need to keep in mind that the need will continue beyond this immediate situation.”
The Red Cross has set up their big kitchen at Catalyst Church on Gum Branch Road and at their site at the First Baptist Church in Richlands; the church community has continued cooking duties after the Red Cross runs out of food for the day.
“It’s really been a neat situation and they’re also passing out other supplies,” Charlotte Rodriguez with the Red Cross said of the Richlands church.
Rodriguez said they’ve been averaging about 200-to-300 people at each site daily and have around 50 volunteers from across the United States working in Onslow County.
“We train them wherever they are locally and when we have a disaster we can deploy who we need,” she said.
Along with food the Red Cross has distributed cleanup kits that included duct tape, rubber gloves, bleach, brushes, Sharpies and sponges.
Currently there’s a dire need for blood donations and financial donations, Rodriguez said.
“We had a critical blood shortage before the hurricane and now we’ve had to cancel so many that there’s a really critical shortage,” she said.
“(Monetary donations) allow us to get what we need to the person who needs it much quicker and a lot of the churches are taking up collections.”