About this series: In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew’s destruction in Beaufort County, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette asked local leaders and others to weigh in on what went well and what could have gone better. Lessons emerged that may better prepare us for when the next hurricane hits.
A natural disaster can crush the spirit of many folks, besides causing physical destruction.
For others, the crisis galvanizes them to reach out to their neighbors, colleagues and strangers.
When Hurricane Matthew hit last month, the Lowcountry’s collective compassion quickly emerged, as countless individuals — as well as churches, community organizations and businesses —came together to help those in need.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette over the past month shared many of those stories. And while we can’t capture all of them, we offer the following examples as additional insight into what happened before, during and after the storm.
Neighbors helping neighbors
When Gov. Nikki Haley ordered residents along the South Carolina coast to evacuate before the Category 2 hurricane roared through Beaufort County in the early morning hours of Oct. 8, she called on citizens to help one another.
“We need neighbors to take care of neighbors,” she said.
Residents here answered her call soon after the sun came up on Oct. 8, in big and small ways.
“The evacuation really forced people to step up and help one another,” said Glenn Schrader, a home oxygen and medical supply provider who lives in Hilton Head Plantation.
Schrader evacuated to Georgia and returned soon after the storm. His hurricane heroes lived right next door to him.
He said when he was away, his next-door neighbor, Cindy, checked on his home, calming his family’s nerves about the state of their home. When he returned to work soon after the storm was over to deliver medical supplies across the island for those in need, his neighbors cut up and cleared a large pine tree that had split in his front yard.
“I realized how blessed I was to have my neighbors,” Schrader said.
When the evacuation was lifted and neighbors returned to flooded houses, punctured roofs and streets cluttered in debris, Schrader’s neighbors were walking the streets to offer help.
“At the end of a long hard day of cleaning up the neighborhood, we all had a barbecue to share a beer and a laugh,” he said. “It took a storm to bring us together and get to know those familiar faces we normally just wave at.”
Pamela Jimenez, a Bluffton resident, said she saw the Hispanic community help others in many ways in the days following the storm — whether it was providing food to volunteers, clearing debris free of charge, or offering a spare bedroom for the displaced.
“Our Hispanic community went above and beyond,” she said. “A couple of volunteers went around cleaning out, cutting trees down without receiving a dime.”
Even local children stepped up to do their part.
Elyse Chisolm, a Hilton Head Island 8-year-old, didn’t fret when her birthday party at Lawton Stables was canceled because of hurricane damage. Instead, she changed it to a cleanup party where kids walked the neighborhood and picked up debris.
“She decided (on her own accord) to spend the time with her friends cleaning up,” Elyse’s mother, Tammy, said. “I’m in awe of her generosity and compassion.”
Groups, businesses reach out
Churches, community organizations and businesses also played a large humanitarian role following the storm.
LowCountry Community Church in Bluffton, for example, wasted no time getting organized and sending volunteers out to help their neighbors, said Benedette McGuire, the church’s director of missions and outreach.
The church quickly partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational, evangelical Christian, humanitarian-aid organization, and served as the organization’s command center to aid those in need, reaching out to others as far away as 30 miles outside of Bluffton.
While Samaritan’s Purse assisted in debris pickup, moving fallen trees and repairing homes, the duty of the church’s volunteers was to lend spiritual assistance, McGuire said.
“We tried to pick up that piece, because that’s not (Samaritan’s Purse’s) area ... something we felt we were called to do to help,” she said. “The spiritual piece that comes in ... is so needed, because people just need to talk it through.”
Despite their efforts, McGuire said there is an ongoing need in the area for temporary housing for those who were displaced by the storm. She said she and volunteers heard many stories of people telling them they had been sleeping in their cars for days.
“I don’t just mean (temporary housing) for a few days,” she said. “A lot of these people won’t get back into their homes until January.”
When employees of EviCore Healthcare, a Bluffton-based medical-benefits management company, began returning home after the storm, company managers heard that some workers were without power, had lost food or were facing other hardships, said Kathleen Mercier, EviCore’s executive vice president of human resources.
The company quickly established a hurricane relief fund for everyone in the company and started handing out gift cards for food, Mercier said. For those who couldn’t get back into their homes, EviCore placed them in hotels at the company’s expense until they could make others plans, she said.
As the storm was approaching, EviCore decided to close its Bluffton office and stay closed through the weekend, Mercier said. The company already had closed its office in Melbourne, Florida, she said, noting management was looking out for 1,620 employees along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts.
“We were so concerned about them getting caught in traffic,” she said. “We just thought it was easier to close.”
During the time that EviCore offices were closed — until Oct. 12 — Mercier said managers contacted their workers to make sure they were all right and continued to pay them — something not every business in the area chose to do.
Other businesses reached out to their customers — and complete strangers — as fast as they could after the storm.
“(In Beaufort) I have to give credit to see the local businesses that worked to open as quickly as they possibly could to serve a need,” said Bill Prokop, city manager. “They didn’t have to, but they realized that people would need a warm meal, and places like the Golden Corral, the Waffle House, Sea Eagle, were out doing catering. A couple of the food trucks were giving out food for free. The restaurants were bringing food to first responders.”
But many area residents continue to struggle financially since the storm, and the need for donations remains a priority.
One charitable fund in particular, the Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding Fund, established in 2004 by the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, which collects donations to award to other organizations, has received a number of donations and has been the focus of many fundraisers, according to Jean Heyduck, the foundation’s vice president of marketing and communications.
Just three days after the storm, $25,000 was awarded to the American Red Cross; Deep Well received $15,000; and $10,000 was given to Bluffton Self Help, according to the foundation’s website.
“We have several grants here that are being looked at and considered,” Heyduck said. “We expect more to come in.”
Preparing for the disaster more than a decade in advance helped avoid a lot of conflict, allowing the foundation to award grants quickly, she said.
“We were in pretty good shape when this happened,” she said.
Mandy Matney: 843-706-8147, @MandyMatney
Madison Hogan: 843-706-8137, @MadisonHogan