The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday January 20th

Fall Break service trips focus on hurricane relief in Eastern N.C.

<p>(From left to right) Community member from Lumberton and Jessica Aldous carry debris out of a victim's house. (Photo courtesy of Michelle He)</p>
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(From left to right) Community member from Lumberton and Jessica Aldous carry debris out of a victim's house. (Photo courtesy of Michelle He)

Over Fall Break, two disaster relief teams traveled to Lumberton and Pollocksville in Eastern North Carolina to assist people affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael. 

Through APPLES Service-Learning, a group of nine student volunteers worked on hurricane relief projects in Lumberton for four days from Oct. 17-21. The Rural Communities Alternative Fall Break trip was originally intended to be an opportunity for students to learn about Robeson County's Lumbee Tribe and their struggles with living in a rural community. However, after Hurricane Florence impacted Robeson County, the service team was asked by community leaders to focus on hurricane relief, namely housing projects and resource distribution

On the first day, the team volunteered at the United Way distribution center, unloading furniture donations for distribution to families in need. The second day, the group helped the Robeson County Disaster Recovery Center hand out supplies to people who lost their personal belongings and resources to provide for their families. At the center, lines of cars moved through the supply stations as the volunteers loaded food, cleaning supplies and other donations into people’s trunks.  

“I was just shocked by how urgent it was," said Amy Cockerham, one of the trip’s student leaders. "There were people coming from everywhere." 

After the team’s first two days working at distribution centers, they completed a housing clean-up project. They were connected via a community partner to a man whose house was severely flooded by the hurricane. Dressed in protective suits, the group removed the house’s molded property and damaged infrastructure. 

“We had masks on, and we just had to take out everything that was rotting and help him move everything near the curb so that the city could come pick it up,” said Michelle He, a student leader for the trip. “There weren’t actually floors. There were just wood planks, and there were a lot of holes where you could just fall through the foundation.” 

The team finished "mucking" the home in about four hours, a feat He believed would have taken the homeowner over a week to complete on his own. 

“Just think about how (the homeowner) is just one person in this community, and this whole county was hit really badly by the hurricane, and there’s not that many people that feel that it’s important enough to help out this county since Robeson County is the poorest in North Carolina,” He said. “A lot of people said that it feels as if they’re forgotten about.”

The other disaster relief team comprised of six student and faculty volunteers who took a one-day service trip to Pollocksville in Jones County on Oct. 19. This trip was organized by Becca Bender, the program officer for community engagement at the Carolina Center for Public Service. 

Over the past two years, CCPS has coordinated hurricane relief service trips for areas affected by Hurricane Matthew. The trip to Pollocksville was the first CCPS project organized for victims of Hurricane Florence.  

“We just wanted to give people a chance to just take one day and go on a service trip to make sure that they could become aware of issues happening in the communities all over the state and then to just have the opportunity to give back,” Bender said. 

In Pollocksville, the volunteers worked at a year-old nonprofit called the Filling Station, which collaborated with local churches to allocate resources to the citizens of Jones County. Throughout the day, the team sorted donations and packaged supply bags based on the particular needs of each individual or family. However, since many of the hurricane victims lived in remote areas, and the Filling Station wasn’t equipped to make deliveries, the team also delivered food and school supplies to three schools across the county. 

Following the trip to Pollocksville, CCPS plans on organizing more one-day service trips for hurricane relief, Bender said. There is also a CCPS grant program available for groups who want to organize their own service trip to areas that interest them. 

“Going along with that part of our mission where we’re of the public and for the public, the Carolina Center for Public Service’s mission is connecting Carolina to communities," Bender said. "We’re trying to get the word out to make sure that people understand that these opportunities are available."

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