LUMBERTON — Residents of a community that was perhaps hardest hit by Hurricane Matthew gathered on Saturday under sunny skies at Luther Britt Park, which sits beside the river that caused all that flooding, and celebrated emergency services personnel who were vital during that time — and each other.
“The purpose of Community Day is to get kids to learn the importance of emergency vehicles, and the fire department, and get them familiar with the resources around them,” said Leon Maynor, who represents Precinct 7 on Lumberton City Council and has been organizing the event for years.
The 911 Community Day event also honored West Lumberton residents who have played vital roles in the community and helped others recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew. The Oct. 8 storm and the flooding that followed forced hundreds of residents from their homes, closed dozens of businesses, some of which remain closed or have left the once-bustling West Street area, and killed one civic leader.
“Community Day is used as a renewal of friendships and staying in touch with old friends, but also cultivating the ones you have” Maynor said.
The Erma Hester Citizenship Award was presented to the Rev. Rick Foreman, pastor of West Lumberton Baptist Church, Woody Norris, and the Rev. Jose Ortega, of the National Association of Christian Churches.
Although West Lumberton Baptist Church suffered a lot of damage from which it still is recovering, it continued to serve as a community center, serving hundreds of people food every day for a couple of months after the hurricane.
“We incurred an estimated $1.3 million in damages due to all the flooding that Hurricane Matthew left in its wake,” Foreman said.
Norris is is rebuilding the home he lost to the storm.
“I feel honored there deeply in my heart,” Ortega said. “For them to give me this award, it melts my heart and I feel extremely honored.”
The award honors Erma Hester, a long-time and valued resident of West Lumberton who was murdered.
The event was also about having some fun. There was an inflatable water slide that was a popular way for kids to cool off with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees, and there was plenty of food, with volunteers grilling up hamburgers.
Maynor was appreciative for the local support to pay the bill.
“This year, the local Walmart on West Fifth Street gave us $1,000 to sponsor Community Day, while Food Lion pitched in and gave us a gift certificate for plates, cups and supplies,” Maynor said.
Maynor gave credit to Wendy Chavis, director of the Recreation Department, for setting up the games and other activities for children, and to John Jacobs, director of Luther Britt Park, for making sure the event ran smoothly.
Sakile Cheltenham is student at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He can be reached at 910-416-5649.