LUMBERTON — Lisa Cummings got a big surprise as she reached from her car for a free dinner Wednesday evening at the Baptists on Mission feeding station at Hyde Park Baptist Church.
On the other end of the dinner was Ivanka Trump, daughter and advisor to President Donald Trump. Cummings broke out into something that resembled a happy dance in her car.
“Come on out,” Ivanka said.
Photos and hugs followed, and Cummings was still laughing in disbelief as she drove away.
The president flew over Robeson County two weeks ago, but Ivanka paid a goodwill visit to Lumberton in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
Wearing black slacks and a white top, the tall Trump floated gracefully among the crowd, offering handshakes, hugs, photo opportunities and encouragement. She listened as people talked about the flood and helping people in need.
The Baptists on Mission arrived Sept. 15 during Florence’ most intense rain, said Charles Trantham, who is a cattle farmer from Haywood County, west of Asheville.
“It was raining so hard, we couldn’t do anything,” Trantham said. “We started feeding people on Tuesday.”
The Baptist volunteers fed as many as 18,000 people in one day at Hyde Park and have served more than 100,000 meals since the hurricane. The volunteers came with an armada of trucks, ovens, stoves and food. Other volunteers already are patching roofs in the region.
Trantham was excited about Ivanka’s visit. He promised his wife and daughter a photo.
Many of the Baptist volunteers, like Jim Manning, came from the mountains to the sweltering heat of Robeson County.
“If we look tired, it’s because we are,” Manning said. “There are a lot of giving people here.”
Manning, too, was excited that the president’s daughter was shining a light on the plight of Robeson County, which has been hit twice by major flooding in less than two years.
“I think it’s great she’s coming here,” Manning said. “It brings attention to Southeastern North Carolina in an important way.”
The Baptists on Mission have developed considerable expertise in dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes. They have a permanent site in Lumberton that can feed and sleep 125 people.
“We all know what to do after our experience with Hurricane Matthew,” Manning said. “We set up here just like the last time.”
Hyde Park Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Blackburn has seen the church through two hurricanes and as a feeding site both times.
“This is very familiar,” the Rev. Blackburn said. “A member of the church asked me after Hurricane Matthew if we would do it again. This is what we are supposed to do as followers of Jesus.”
Blackburn was pleased with Trump’s visit and praised her performance.
“It is encouraging that someone shines a light on this county,” he said. “She was very interactive with people, very relaxed, not aloof at all. She cares.”
Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis was on hand and was visibly pleased.
“It was a wonderful visit,” Davis said. “She talked to everybody here.
“Nobody deserves recognition more than the Baptist Men. This is the second time they have come to our aid, and we’re grateful.”
Ivanka Trump impressed the younger folks in the crowd, too. Jenna Blackburn, 9, had her photo taken with Ivanka.
“She is pretty and very nice. It was a big day,” said Emerson Moore, 11.
Trump made no formal statement and answered no questions from members of the news media who were cordoned off in a corner of the church’s property. Afterward, Secret Service men whisked her into a large, black SUV and, ultimately, back to Washington, D.C.
Scott Bigelow can be reached by email at [email protected]