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Students join hurricane relief efforts in N.C.

NEW BERN, N.C. (BP) — When an East Carolina University cross country team found they had an off weekend from running, they decided to go and help survivors of Hurricane Florence. They joined a college-wide effort to help Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers serve in the hard-hit New Bern, N.C., area.

Last Saturday (Oct. 6), 23 team members carpooled using their own vehicles and made the 45-minute drive from their college campus in Greenville, N.C. They assisted with a tear-out of a home that had taken on more than two feet of floodwater after the Neuse River overflowed its banks. After receiving an SBDR orientation along with additional training from the college, the students followed an SBDR team that had begun the tear-out the day before.

As the students drove to the home in the Bridgeton neighborhood, just across the Neuse River from New Bern, they saw piles of debris from flood-damaged homes lining the streets. Most of the homeowners had lost the entire contents of their homes.

“Our team didn’t realize how much damage was done,” said senior Grace Sullivan.

Homeowner Brian Cahoon said he and his wife Amy appreciated the volunteers’ hard work.

“There’s no way I could have done this work,” Brian said.

Within about seven hours, the students nearly cleared the Cahoon’s home. They tore out sheetrock and insulation, pulled up flooring and hauled out water-soaked furniture, adding to the pile of debris along the street.

“Those college girls were scary with their crowbars,” Amy joked. “They did excellent work.”

Amy said it was hard for her to see the home where she grew up so devastated. Her father had built the home with his friends in 1957, and this is the first time it has taken on floodwater.

“I feel like I’ve lost my parents all over again,” she said.

First-time SBDR volunteer Anna Bristle — 18, of Charlotte — said she was glad to help the two homeowners.

“It’s really sad to see that this is people’s reality,” Bristle said. “For us, the hurricane ended three weeks ago, but for them, it’s not over.”

SBDR team leader Jimmy Lawrence of North Carolina Baptists On Mission said he and SBDR volunteers are grateful for the students’ commitment to serving.

“ECU has stepped up. I think it’s wonderful that the college teams are coming,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence, who serves as New Bern’s site commander, said the work is ongoing. While more than 400 job requests have been met in the past three weeks, more requests are coming in. Mud-out and chainsaw teams are needed.

ECU has committed to sending day volunteer teams every Saturday in October and have signed up more than 500 volunteers, he said.

Along with the cross-country team, other athletic teams, including the men’s baseball, basketball and soccer teams, have served along with university staff.

Grace Sullivan, one of the cross-country team’s captains, and ECU Human Resources leader Danielle Morrin helped spearhead the students coming.

“I am so proud of [the students],” Morrin said.

Sullivan noted, “This is our community and they support us. So, we wanted to support them and to give back.”

In response to Hurricane Florence, SBDR volunteers have served more than 1.1 million meals, provided flood cleanup for more than 300 homes and helped clear more than 1,100 yards of storm debris.

On Thursday (Oct. 11), ECU cancelled its classes due to Tropical Storm Michael, which ravaged the Florida Panhandle, Georgia and Alabama as one of the worst hurricanes to hit the U.S. Michael led to casualties as far north as Virginia.

So far, SBDR volunteers have served nearly 100,000 meals and helped clear more than 140 yards in response to Hurricane Michael.

To learn more, contact your state convention or visit namb.net/hurricane-relief.

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  • Laura Sikes