LUMBERTON — The hands that Julius Peppers used to total more than 700 tackles so far in a stellar NFL career were used on Tuesday for a kinder, gentler purpose — to lift up some of those still recovering in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
The Carolina Panthers’ defensive end, who is a native of Bailey in Nash County, not only got those hands dirty, but he used them to write a $100,000 check to the Julius Peppers Hurricane Relief Fund at the Foundations for the Carolinas after the storm struck in September. That was quickly matched by the team’s quarterback, Cam Newton.
“It’s personal to me because this is home. This is close to home. I was born and raised about an hour and a half away from here,” Peppers said before helping remove damaged paneling from a home on Nevada Street in Lumberton. “I just wanted to get out and lend a helping hand to someone who is in need.”
That home was the last of four stops in Robeson County that Peppers made on Tuesday, donning a “Live United” shirt while he worked alongside members of the United Way of Robeson County, Christian Aid Ministries and the North Carolina Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief crew.
Peppers visited flood-damaged homes in Maxton and Lumberton, along with one distribution center and helped served meals at the Pine Street Senior Center during his visit.
“We are out here visiting the area and some of the homes that got a little bit destroyed by the hurricane with water damage. Now we are going to go in and help try and repair these homes,” he said. “Seeing all the stuff outside that people had to throw away, all the trees down and the water damage to people’s homes, it’s heartbreaking and it makes me want to help out even more.”
Greg Moore’s home on Nevada Street, that he had moved back into less than a year ago after it was damaged during Hurricane Matthew, was being gutted on Tuesday by the Baptist Men’s group and received extra help when Peppers came.
“This is overwhelming that someone is actually here to help me,” Moore said. “This is a blessing.”
Moore, a Lumberton police officer, was emotional while expressing his gratitude to the All-Pro defensive end and former UNC football and basketball standout.
Peppers also said that while the storm has passed and the cleanup process is ongoing, the need for aid is still there.
“We need help, and we want to encourage people to continue to give as much as they can,” he said.
At his two afternoon stops in Lumberton, the Pine Street Senior Center to serve meals for the Loaves and Fishes Food Kitchen and Moore’s house in South Lumberton, Peppers drew a crowd.
“I’m here to offer help in any way possible and give people hope,” Peppers said. “People coming out, taking pictures and shaking hands, that helps as well.”
United Way of Robeson County Director Latricia Freeman spent the morning going to sites with Peppers and told him that his visit could give the hope that many people need after suffering through two hurricanes in less than two years.
“A lot of people have wanted to throw their hands up and walk away. I was sharing with him that I hope his visit will inspire other people,” Freeman said. “Even though he is seen as a role model to a lot of people, he sees that there is a need and that’s why he came.”
One of those getting a lift from meeting was Kelly Lesane, who heard of Peppers servings meals at the Pine Street center and came from her neighboring office at the Robeson County Board of Elections to have her Panthers visor signed. The visor had visible water damage as a result of Florence, and now has an autograph from the NFL franchise’s all-time sack leader.
“The Panthers are my team. I support them and they support me,” Lesane said. “It’s not just about the game. It’s about everybody. It’s not just about his team or football, he’s worried about North Carolina. I really appreciate him coming out today to help us.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.