LUMBERTON — Betty Hunt had a single request when work began to repair the damage done to her house by Hurricane Matthew.
“I brought a team to clear the house out, and Ms. Betty said to me, ‘If you can save my granddaddy’s bed, and a set of dishes she had in the cabinet, everything else can be thrown away,’” said Gary Locklear, North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church’s regional director of disaster response.
That was a small task in a series of repairs and reconstructions performed by volunteer laborers organized by the organization. Floodwaters had damaged Hunt’s home to the point that workers had to strip the dwelling of many features.
“It was in need of repair,” said Vernon Miller, Christian Aid Ministries project coordinator. “It had some termite damage, it had some rotting floor joists, some of the girders needed shoring up, some of the studs needed replacing. It was a fair amount of work that had to go into the house before we could even put the new floor back down.”
Christian Aid Ministries, which enlists teams of mostly Amish and Mennonite volunteers to assist in disaster recovery projects, began helping Robeson County recover from the storm two days after it struck in October 2016.
Fourteen months after the storm blew through Robeson County crews are putting the finishing touches on the house and hope to have Hunt move back in before the end of the year.
Hunt isn’t the only one receiving help from the church. Locklear said several other homes damaged by the hurricane are being repaired.
“We’ve got four more that we will move in before the end of the year,” Locklear said.
Many others should be move-in ready next year.
In Robeson County, 129 requests for assistance from the United Methodist Church Disaster Response Ministry have been received to date. Of those applicants, 66 are either in the case management or construction phase of the repair cycle.
Funding for the repairs comes from many UMC districts. Work on Hunt’s house was supported by the Capital District, which represents churches in Raleigh, Wilson, Smithfield and Goldsboro. Another home in Lumberton, owned by Pearly Thompson, was adopted by the Corridor District, which has churches in Burlington, Durham and Roxboro.
“It’s volunteers that are giving up money,” Locklear said. “Significant money has been given for this effort. It’s coming from the outside. We don’t have the local resources we need to fix everything, so we’re dependent on a lot of other people.”
The ministry has spent just under $300,000 on its disaster response effort in Robeson County. To date ministry has spent $631,223 on its response efforts in the six North Carolina counties it is serving.
The process of restoring the homes has been tedious because of the nature of the damage. In some cases, workers have had to almost completely rebuild the home.
“Reconstructing these homes, some of them very old, some of them not in very good shape, some of them in really bad need of repair even before the storm got here, and then having to go in and remodel the homes and make them structurally sound has been a real challenge,” Miller said. “It takes a lot more time than one would think.”
“I think it means so much,” Locklear said. “The devastation was so broad.”
Hunt, who has been living 20 miles from her home on Locklear Street during the repair process, has experienced that devastation firsthand.
“I truly appreciate everything that everybody has done,” Hunt said.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-416-5165 or on Twitter @Tester_Brandon.