Recovering from Hurricane Florence, One Step at a Time

DSC_2034 (2)On a sunny October afternoon in Fayetteville, N.C., Sonja Graham sat patiently on a metal folding chair in the lobby of the Smith Recreation Center, her belongings neatly placed in bags next to her.

“I’m waiting for a car to take me and my son to a hotel,” she said with a smile.

The center has served as an American Red Cross shelter for Graham and more than one hundred others from across the region in need of a safe place to stay after Hurricane Florence left them homeless.

“The Red Cross has been trying to help everyone,” said Graham. “Food, hot showers, clothing. And we haven’t had to buy things like deodorant and shampoo.”

DSC_2196 (2)It has been a trying couple of weeks for Graham and her family. She evacuated her Saint Pauls, N.C. home of six years about 20 minutes from the shelter a day before Hurricane Florence blew off her roof. The Smith Recreation Center was the third shelter the family has stayed in.

“My house flooded during [Hurricane] Matthew two years ago but it didn’t tear it apart like this,” said Graham holding back tears. “It’s a total loss.”

Nearly three weeks after Florence began its slow, devastating path across the Carolinas, families find themselves at very different stages of recovery: some have returned home, some are still in shelters, and some like Graham are moving on to transitional housing like hotels.

No matter what the phase, the Red Cross is there, playing a critical role in helping families and communities recover. As part of their organization’s ongoing Hurricane Florence response, trained Red Cross caseworkers are connecting one-on-one with people like Sonja to help them navigate what can often be a confusing, complicated and time-consuming world of disaster recovery. Red Cross caseworkers are helping people create recovery plans, complete paperwork and find help from other agencies.

DSC_2221 (2)“I’ve been a wreck at times, sad. And Red Cross mental-health folks were there for me,” said Graham who struggles with depression. “Made me feel better to have someone to talk to.”

Over the past couple days, Graham and her family also met with Red Cross caseworkers for help planning next steps, including referrals to community partners and some financial assistance.

“It feels so great to know that someone cares, because they don’t have to.” Graham added, “They’ve made me feel hopeful.”

You can help people affected by Hurricane Florence like Sonja by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word FLORENCE to 90999 to make a $10 donation. 

Story by Michael Devulpillieres/American Red Cross


Law student gives back

09-27-18-photo 1-law studentThird year law student Thomas Walker was looking for a chance to give back. He answered an email request sent out by the president of the student body for event-based volunteers to help with the Red Cross relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Florence. It was an easy process to get plugged in.   

Walker spends six hours per week calling County Commissioners to see if there are unmet needs in their areas and determine how the Red Cross can help. Specific needs in affected counties can include the need for more food, water or cleaning kits. The process is to collect and record information and connect commissioners with the proper resources.  

Walker enjoys the flexibility the Red Cross offers. He divides his volunteer hours over a few days per week and pulls up a chair wherever there’s a phone. “I had no idea about the size and scope of the Red Cross operation”, Walker said. He loosely knew the Red Cross handles disasters but didn’t know how large their response operation is. “It’s rewarding to connect people with solutions”, said Walker.

Event-based volunteers like Walker are very important to Red Cross work following a disaster. In a recent poll of 178 event-based volunteers they rated their satisfaction level at 4.3 on a scale of 1 to 5. If you are interested in volunteering for the American Red Cross please visit or visit your local chapter office 

Story by Beth Bernhardt/American Red Cross 

Organizations unite with Red Cross in Goldsboro to help community


Scott Barnard, Director of Parks and Recreation of Goldsboro, N.C. and Mike McKnight, Red Cross logistics volunteer

The American Red Cross is working around the clock to provide relief to thousands of people affected by Hurricane Florence’s strong winds and catastrophic flooding. This major relief effort is made possible through the development of local partnerships formed years ago.  

During Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, the city of Goldsboro’s Parks and Recreation department graciously allowed the Red Cross to establish a disaster headquarters location at the Herman Park Center. When weather forecasts predicted Hurricane Florence to make landfall along the southern coast of North Carolina, the Red Cross reached out to Parks and Recreation once again, hoping for a similar setup. Today, the Herman Park Center has temporarily traded fitness classes, Kiwanis and drum lessons for the organized chaos of disaster relief.  

This partnership with Parks and Recreation is vital to the Red Cross, but according to Scott Barnard, Parks and Recreation director, the relationship is a win-win.  

“The Red Cross choosing us to be the headquarters reinforces some of the things we are trying to work on when we are not in a crisis. We are always trying to position Goldsboro as a place for travel sports, special events or concerts. We are always trying to argue that our location is awesome,” he said.  

Nearby, the Red Cross also had the opportunity to partner with a local warehouse space to effectively distribute goods to people in need. Jim Singer, a Red Crosser of 18 years, said the partnership with the local warehouse has made a tremendous difference in the collection and distribution of emergency supplies. “Partnering with local agencies just makes our mission so much easier,” he said.  

It is through partnerships, like the one with this warehouse, that the Red Cross has been able to distribute more than 138,200 relief supplies in response to Hurricane Florence.  

Other organizations have also come alongside the Red Cross in Goldsboro by bringing therapy dogs to feeding sites, and providing volunteers for disaster relief, among other contributions. 

“It’s in our blood to go out and help people,” Singer said.  

Story by Shelby Raymond/American Red Cross 

It takes a team to feed people during a disaster 

It takes a team to feed people affected by disastersThe Red Cross has served over 1.5 million meals and snacks since the Hurricane Florence disaster began. That’s a lot of food! How does the Red Cross manage to produce that many breakfasts, lunches and dinners?

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief does the procurement and preparation of the meals, and Red Cross distributes them. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief owns many large mobile commercial kitchens where they prepare and serve their mobile and fixed meals. Their cooks use set, predetermined menus that take regional preferences into consideration.

Mobile meals are delivered throughout the community on large Red Cross trucks called Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs). There are also large trucks, that can hold up to 700 meals, to deliver meals to fixed locations at kitchen sites or in evacuation shelters.

ERVs go out and look for people affected by the disaster, canvassing neighborhoods and working with the police and city managers to ascertain how many meals need to be prepared and served. ERVs will go out to a fixed site in a Walmart parking lot or post office and open their windows and serve from there. In each area, six trucks go out on designated routes and another three do reconnaissance. There is a huge map that determines where to go and keeps everyone organized.

One challenge is that the elderly can’t reach the ERV trucks. They’re homebound and can’t get to the feeding sites. The ERVs will make a detour to find them. “We don’t leave until we’re satisfied that all clients are thoroughly happy to see Red Cross smiles and the hope we bring,” said Charles Thomas, ERV driver.

Red Cross ERV drivers love their jobs. The hours are long but they get to interact with the community at a deep level by getting to know their clients. They’re trained in safe food handling and defensive driving. It really is a big team effort. “This is my first deployment, but everyone has readily accepted my leadership, readily accepted the assignment, and readily accepted going out to serve the public,” Charles said.

At the end of each day each area reports the number of meals, where they’re distributed, the number of staff required and other metrics. This information is shared at the operational level and is used for fund raising, operations and determining when to consolidate or wind down relief efforts.

You can help people affected by Hurricane Florence by visiting, calling 1-800 RED CROSS or texting the word FLORENCE to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Story by Beth Bernhardt/American Red Cross

Support After a Disaster Includes Mental Health

IMG_0626When a disaster strikes, there are obvious needs that people see like shelter, food, and clothing – but there are other needs that are very important as well, like addressing mental health.  

Disaster Mental Health volunteer Trina Shepherd is in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is part of a team that is checking in on the mental health of those who have been impacted by Hurricane Florence. She describes the work she is doing as “practical and emotional, and helping people get ready for the next steps that are coming.”   

Volunteers like Trina aren’t there to engage in therapy sessions, they are there to listen and to make a difficult situation a little more bearable for the people going through it. “Disasters can be very traumatic, and people can become frozen in that trauma. We’re helping and listening,” Trina said, “and by the end of the conversation you see people relaxing and sharing. I like to listen to their stories, they are important.” 

Disaster Mental Health also is important for Red Cross staff. Trina explained how members of her team help prepare staff for difficult situations and the realities they may face in the field, arming them with the knowledge and tools they will need when things get tough. They’re also available to help any staff members who are struggling personally while they are working. 

Sometimes people impacted by disasters are already struggling with issues that impact their mental health before a disaster. “There was a man who was terminally ill in a shelter, he was there with his wife and daughter. They shared memories with me and we talked through things.  He used to be a trucker and really lit up when we talked about it.” Trina said.  

The Disaster Mental Health Team is busy visiting shelters and meeting with people who need someone to talk to.  

Story by Anna Teehan/Canadian Red Cross  

Red Cross Disaster Assessment team reads the signs for hurricane damage

In North Carolina, Red Cross Disaster Assessment (DA) teams survey urban and rural areas daily, house by house, to assess the damage to residences resulting from Hurricane Florence.  

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The water level reached by flooding is clearly visible on this residence surveyed by Red Cross Disaster Assessment team members Elizabeth Boria and Jim Bray in Calabash, N.C.

On Oct. 1, 2018, DA volunteers Elizabeth Boria and Jim Bray drove the streets of Calabash and Shallotte, where they were able to observe the damage to the residences caused by the hurricane. The data they collected will help identify affected families and their particular needs, in order to provide them with assistance.  

“In several areas we have visited, the main problem was floods,” said Elizabeth Boria as she drove through Calabash’s alleys of tall pine trees. “Many people who found refuge in shelters are unable to return to their homes due to the damage and to mold.”  

Off Hickman Road, the waterline was clearly visible, up to four feet, on several of the wooden houses. The once beautiful green waters of the pond had turned to dark brown, almost black, letting out a strong rotten smell.   

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A pond in a residential area in Calabash, N.C., contaminated by the floods caused by hurricane Florence. The dark waters let out a strong rotten smell.

Further north, on the way to Shallotte, armies of mosquitoes charged on the Red Cross vehicle windows, as retired engineer Jim Bray studied the handful of maps on his lap. He skillfully led his DA teammate Elizabeth through the county’s network of streets, one by one, to ensure no affected household would be left out. 

The surroundings were peaceful, yet trees and houses told their tale of the hurricane: broken branches, fallen trees, piles of vegetable debris on the side of the road and blue and gray tarps on the roofs were testimonies of the damage caused by Florence’s strong winds.  

When a residence is affected, the DA team members enter the details of the damage on their mobile cell phone, via an electronic application developed by the Red Cross.   

“This survey allows us to know exactly where the damages occurred, the type of damage, and how many families were impacted,” Jim explained. “Last Wednesday, for example, we came across 120 houses affected by wind damage in Pender, the next day, we found 75.”  

The Disaster Assessment team will continue to cover the affected areas looking for damage until every street on the map has been completely examined.    

You can help people affected by Hurricane Florence by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word FLORENCE to 90999 to make a $10 donation 

Photos and Story by Elena Sartorius/American Red Cross 

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Elizabeth Boria, from Red Cross Disaster Assessment team, surveys a family residence impacted by floods in Calabash, N.C.

Administering to the Whole Child

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Dr. Felix Colon with Red Cross spiritual care hands out stuffed Mickey Mouse dolls and coloring books to children of Chinquapin Elementary School families at a lunch gathering at a park near the school. School has not yet resumed as the building itself is still being cleaned from flooding.

Teachers and staff of Chinquapin Elementary School hadn’t seen their students since Sept. 11 and they were concerned. Florence made landfall. This they knew. Families lives are forever changed. This, too, they knew. They could drive the streets and see the personal belongings of families lining the streets. These things were known. How their students and families fared was not known.  

Miriam Summerlin, an eighth-grade language arts and social studies teacher at the school, said she saw some families at a distribution site a few days ago and was struck by the extent of the devastation and impact on the families. She saw the look on their faces. “They didn’t know what they were gonna do,” and she wanted to help. 


Chinquapin Elementary School principal Marketa Hargrove, eighth grade language arts & social studies teacher Miriam Summerlin, and assistant principal Denise Humphries.

She called the assistant principal, Denise Humphries, and principal, Marketa Hargrove, with an idea. She wanted to get the kids together to touch base ahead of when they returned for classes, especially since that date was still not definite.  

“As a teacher, we don’t just teach the child,” said Summerlin. “We administer to the whole child. And so I wanted a way to get to our kids to find out what they needed and give them a chance to just be kids for a little while, and have a hot meal, and get the families some of the supplies they needed.” 

Hargrove and Humphries were on board. Summerlin called and asked the Red Cross to help. They set a date, secured one of the county’s ball fields, and the day was planned. Lunch was provided by the Red Cross in partnership with the North Carolina Baptist Men. Red Cross trucks were positioned at the park where families could pick up clean-up kits and supplies. 

Administering to the whole child

Red Cross volunteer walks with family from Chinquapin Elementary School to lunch gathering at a park near the school.

While some of the kids played kickball, others lingered with their parents under a pavilion chatting with Red Cross spiritual care volunteers and mental health counselors. Hargrove was heartened by the laughter coming from the field. She said that was the goal, “to get them to the point where they can relax and just be kids, not have to worry about, where am I gonna sleep tonight, what are we gonna eat? To just relax, have fun, and get them around some people they don’t see every day to try to get back to some kind of normal.” 

Mental health support from the Red Cross is something the three hope will continue. Hargrove says the community has pulled together in a way she can only describe as awesome, but she adds that everyone, students, staff, and the whole community will need continued support.  

Today the kids — their kids — were just kids. At least for today. 

You can help people affected by Hurricane Florence by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word FLORENCE to 90999 to make a $10 donation.  

Story by Jerri Jameson/American Red Cross