12 Tar Heels, 12 hours, one disaster relief trip to help rebuild a community

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By Becca Bender

Lumberton disaster relief trip - groupOn Friday, Jan. 27, I had the opportunity to travel to Lumberton, North Carolina with 11 members of the UNC community (four staff members, including me, and eight undergraduate students) to provide continued assistance in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. As a native of eastern North Carolina, I am happy that UNC and the Carolina Center for Public Service made it a priority to work in partnership with the affected communities to offer relief.

We had a full day on Friday, leaving campus at 7:30 a.m. for the two-hour drive to Lumberton and returning back to campus at 7 p.m. Squeezing 12, mostly-strangers, into a van makes for a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other. We arrived in Lumberton and received a brief overview of the work that the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church has done after the storm and then drove to our first work site. Driving through parts of town, it is hard to believe it was underwater just a few short months ago. We were told as the water made its way through the town from the Lumber River, it traveled down the railroad tracks like a fire hose and quickly flooded surrounding areas.

We spent the day serving alongside volunteers from Morehead City, North Carolina who have been assisting with relief efforts through the United Methodist Church. Our group worked on two homes where we removed floorboards so the homes could be sprayed for mold. A crew will then decide if the home can be rebuilt or not. One of the lead volunteers mentioned that it is not Lumberton disaster relief tripuncommon to come back to Lumberton a few weeks after you complete a project and see that the house you worked on was torn down, but that is the nature of disaster relief and the slow rebuilding process.

At the end of the day, Mac Legerton, executive director of the Center for Community Action in Robeson County, shared some of his reflections on the storm and the recovery process. The Center for Community Action is a longtime partner of APPLES Service-Learning alternative break trips. Legerton shared some of the current work he is doing post-Hurricane Matthew to promote healthy energy, economic and environmental practices in a rural community like Robeson County.

As our group left Lumberton to return to campus, I felt incredibly humbled by the experience of offering assistance after such a huge disaster and seeing numerous homes and businesses now gutted, with their futures unknown. It was eye-opening to see the storm’s physical and emotional effects on community structures and residents. I am also grateful that our staff and student participants took time out of their schedules to commit to this experience and spend the day serving others.

Additional UNC disaster relief trips will continue to be offered. For details and to register, visit UNC disaster relief trips. The best source of updated information is posted on a dedicated website at ccps.unc.edu/HurricaneMatthew. The center will continue to collect and share information about relief efforts.