“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Fred “Mr. Rogers” Rogers
In light of the disastrous flooding in Greenbrier County and around the state, West Virginians have shown their true colors, picking up shovels and hammers, clothing and supplies, and headed out to help their neighbors.
From the time the waters rose, tales of daring rescues have been told, as neighbors clung to neighbors, neighbors clung to trees, and local law enforcement officers clung to ropes all to do their best to help others in need.
Come Friday morning, as the waters began to recede back into the banks White Sulphur Springs’ Howard’s Creek, people have been doing everything they can to aid in cleanup efforts and to provide potable water and food to flood victims. The outpouring of support has been unprecedented, and will long be a point of pride for West Virginia communities – in times of crisis, the community banded together.
One organization providing flood relief is the United Way of the Greenbrier Valley, which immediately set up shop in Lewisburg’s St. James Episcopal Church in Lewisburg and began quickly distributing manpower and supplies to flood victims.
“United Way of the Greenbrier Valley, in partnership with St. James Episcopal Church, has been dubbed an NGO (non-governmental organization) assisting with local flood recovery and relief efforts,” said Executive Director Erin Hurst. Hurst was speaking from the United Way’s “command center” in a room adjacent to the church’s parish hall, which is full of supplies donated from all over the country.
“Since Friday, it is estimated we’ve received more than a half a million supplies which we’ve distributed to affected areas in White Sulphur Springs, Rainelle, Rupert, Renick and Caldwell,” Hurst said.
Hurst is reluctant to take any of the credit. It’s all volunteer-driven, she said.
“Without prompting, we were able to coordinate with dozens and dozens of volunteers who are so eager to help,” said Hurst. “Support is everywhere. It’s a beautiful thing to see this community come together like it has.” And, with that, she was off and running.
Later, she sent a text message that said, “My heart is bursting with all the love and donations of supplies and money. That feeling is juxtaposed to heartache for our little towns who lost so much. It’s heavy.”
Also working in the command center was Barbara “Boo” Detch, who recently moved to Lewisburg from Southern California to assist her brother, Matt Detch, with his U.S. House of Representatives campaign. For now, she said, Detch has temporarily suspended his campaign in order to help flood victims (Gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice did the same thing), and she has turned her attention to flood relief.
“Any resource that the campaign has, has been rerouted to flood relief,” she said, including the campaign headquarters’ sign which features a large arrow. For now, that large arrow is directing supply traffic into the St. James parking lot.
As part of her efforts, Detch created a Facebook page, Greenbrier Valley Flood and Recovery and Relief. As of Thursday afternoon, the page has over 8,000 “Likes,” with a reach of over one million people. Detch and St. James Episcopal Church priest Joshua Saxe, and other volunteers who are working the command center, have responded to any messages that have come in via Facebook, directing people to proper channels.
“As of this morning, our response rate average is at four minutes. Questions have spanned from where to donate/volunteer to people requesting rescue,” said Saxe in a written statement.
Hurst, Detch and Saxe want no glory; they just want to help. And they are not the only ones.
Churches and businesses across the county, private citizens, government organizations and corporations have all pitched in. Students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, The Greenbrier, the West Virginia State Medical Association, the Professional Golfers Association (PGA), and countless others have offered up help of cash and supplies.
One group, the Airstream Club International, here for their annual rally at the State Fairgrounds, rolled into town just as disaster struck. Rather than complain about the lack of services, or go elsewhere, the “Airstreamers” pitched in just like everyone else, raising over $5,000 for flood victims. Then, on Wednesday night, they arranged for a tractor trailer truck full of pet food and supplies to be delivered to the Greenbrier County Animal Shelter.
Even celebrities have gotten in on the action: Greenbrier Golf Pro Bubba Watson donated $250,000; comedian Chelsea Handler donated $15,000 (and tweeted about it on Twitter), and West Virginians Brad Paisley and Jennifer Garner have lent their names to flooding relief.
The West Virginia state motto,” Mountaineers are Always Free,” has served the state for over a century. This week, so many have shown that not only are West Virginians always free, they are also very kind.