By James Johnson
’Tis the season. Soon the entrances to supermarkets and the street corners at busy intersections will be graced with the familiar sight of members of the Salvation Army, bells in hand, asking for whatever pocket change one has available so that money can go toward helping those suffering through poverty during the coldest months of the year.
The need may be especially grave this year, in a state that is still recovering from one of the most devastating storms in its history, Hurricane Florence.
“I have been involved with disasters since I was a teen. I have seen lots of stuff. Disasters were disasters. But this one was unique,” said Salvation Army Major Tim Grider. “Because it dropped water continuously over a long period of time, whereas with (Hurricane) Matthew it was all in one day … And when you are trying to help people recover, it is hard to do when the rain is still falling.”
Florence, which formed in late August, dropped more than 8 trillion gallons of water on North Carolina during its slow crawl across the state. Though the storm’s winds were destructive, much of the damage it caused was by way of flooding, which impacted not only coastal cities like New Bern and Wilmington, but more inland communities, including Lumberton, Fayetteville, Smithfield, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
During and after Florence, the Salvation Army location in Fayetteville kept its shelter open for two weeks straight, allowing several storm victims to stay there. It also increased its usual daily meal servings to three times a day. The Army used its mobile food truck (which is referred to as the “canteen”) to deliver food directly to victims of power outages throughout the community, particularly those hit in Lumberton.
Grider joked that the canteen was a food truck before food trucks became popular.
Though the storm struck harder than anyone had anticipated, Grider said that the recovery has moved at a steady pace.
“We were doing like 500 to 600 meals a day at the beginning. It dwindled down to 100 a day and then at some point it got down to 10 to 12 a day,” he said. “It was a full shelter for about three weeks. We have 54 beds in our shelter, plus about 25 additional mats. Now it is about back to normal.”
Most storm victims, Grider said, have found new homes, or decided they’d rather live in their storm-damaged homes than remain at a shelter.
“People are willing to live in half a house, just to be close to their homes knowing they can protect the half they have,” Grider said. “People are very protective of their things, which I can’t blame them for.”
Empathizing with those less fortunate is something that was instilled in Grider from a young age, as both of his parents were members of the Salvation Army. He was expected to follow in their footsteps – and did.
The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 as a British religious charitable organization dedicated to helping the poor and modeled after the military. It has since spread all over the world with an estimated 1.7 million members, in 131 countries.
The Salvation Army currently has a shelter in Fayetteville, which offers food services for the needy at 220 East Russell Street. It also has a thrift store at 433 Robeson Street and an office of operations at 310 Dick Street.
The Fayetteville-based operation serves Cumberland, Hoke, Moore, Robeson and Scotland counties. It is headed by Grider and his wife, Cheryl, who is also a major in the Salvation Army and also the child of Salvation Army officers. The couple have three children.
Tim Grider said storm victims still need help. Would-be donors have several options. Furniture donated to the thrift shop on Robeson Street can help flooding victims refurnish their homes.
And with Christmas just around the corner, Grider said this year’s Angel Tree program will be especially important, as many families will not be able to afford to buy their children gifts this year. The Angel Tree program is designed to help children up to 12 years old, and seniors, who might otherwise not receive gifts. This year the program is partnering with Cross Creek Mall, where an Angel Tree will be hung with dozens of tags describing needy children and seniors and their gift wants and needs. People can pick out tags and use them as guides to shop for that individual.
For more information go to www.salvationarmycarolinas.org.