While most of the national media may have abandoned coverage of Hurricane Florence’s aftermath not long after the storm dissipated and flood waters had yet to crest, the communities that endured Florence still face a long road ahead. The destruction wreaked by the hurricane has already become a reality of staggering recovery costs across the coastal Carolinas. In Wilmington, NC, alone, city officials estimate anywhere from $13 million to $20 million in debris cleanup alone.
But what’s worse is that Mayor Bill Saffo projects $220 million in private property damage. And many of those who have suffered significant damage to their homes and basic utility functions can’t afford the necessary repairs to return their everyday living to some semblance of normal.
That’s where nonprofit service organizations like Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM) offer their incredible help.
From Hurricane Relief to Housing
Founded in 1996 in response to Hurricanes Bertha and Fran, WARM initially existed as a group of volunteers, organized by the Wilmington District of the United Methodist Church, who repaired the home damage of low-income residents across southeastern NC. While making these repairs, volunteers realized that a lot of the damage predated the storms, which spoke to a broader crisis of substandard housing.
For more than two decades, WARM has facilitated urgent repairs and accessibility upgrades to low-income homeowners, many of whom are elderly and/or disabled, throughout Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender counties. Projects focus on housing that
- “does not provide safe and adequate shelter
- endangers the health, safety or well being of a family in its present condition
- has one or more critical defects OR has a combination of intermediate defects in sufficient number to require considerable repair or rebuilding
- does not have operable indoor plumbing
- does not have a usable flush toilet, bathtub or shower inside the unit for the exclusive use of a family
- does not have electricity or has inadequate or unsafe electrical service
- does not have safe or adequate source of heat
- should, but does not, have a kitchen
- has been declared unfit for the habitation by an agency or unit of government”
By 2009, the nonprofit had grown enough to hire an administrative staff and rent an office, which is when current executive director JC Lyle came aboard. WARM now serves three times as many families every year than before Lyle’s tenure.
Hurricane Florence Prep & Recovery
Part of WARM’s mission is to provide long-term disaster readiness and recovery. All year long, WARM completes roofing and other exterior repairs that help homes withstand severe weather. In the days leading up to Hurricane Florence’s landfall, the organization rushed to complete the repairs that were already underway.
“Roofing projects were especially important,” Lyle says. “With storms like Florence, many homes are already at risk for severe water damage because of flooding. 100mph winds hitting roofs in disrepair can make the situation even worse.”
WARM volunteers also helped folks move furniture indoors and clear pine needles and other debris from gutters in order to prepare for Florence’s 26+ inches of rainfall.
Though the organization had to shut down operations during the storm, as soon as WARM reopened its doors on Monday, September 24, it was already mapping out high-priority projects. Of the 174 pre-storm applicants for home repairs, 91 of them suffered additional storm damage from Florence. Lyle anticipates a barrage of additional applications in the coming weeks.
“Right now, we’re prioritizing several people on the waiting list who lost water service during the storm.” Lyle says. “For example, a tree fell on one lady’s pump house and crushed it. We’ve got to handle emergencies like this right away.”
How You Can Help
WARM is currently accepting volunteers for construction and office tasks, and those interested can simply fill out their online form. From weekday and Saturday construction help to snack providers and photographers and temporary office workers, the opportunities are numerous. Mission, youth, church, and work groups are also encouraged to volunteer.
WARM accepts online monetary donations and material or item donations, and for those interested in material donations, WARM has compiled a wish list consisting of tools and building materials as well.
“When offering help, many folks enjoy purchasing tangible items to donate,” Lyle says. “We accept a lot of building materials and tools, but not all materials and tools. It’s always best to check with the organization first before donating in-kind items, and we’re happy to answer any questions potential donors may have.”
Lyle looks to the overwhelming support from the greater Wilmington community as her greatest inspiration from the Florence recovery effort.
“It’s been a real morale booster,” Lyle says, “just seeing dozens and dozens of fundraisers being put on, whether someone’s asking people to donate to recovery efforts in lieu of birthday gifts, or a special concert event is being held. So many businesses, too, are jumping in to help out any way they can.”
Lyle also stresses how integrated the recovery efforts have been in the Wilmington area, as WARM works in tandem with partners like the American Red Cross, Support the Port, Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, Pender County Christian Services, and the local YMCA. WARM’s partner network makes referrals back and forth, as many folks are in need across multiple fronts beyond housing, such as food and emergency health access.
WARM is currently setting up resource centers throughout the Wilmington area, including the former Sears building at the Independence Mall and Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church located on Princess Place. Those in need of home repairs are welcome to visit these centers to apply. WARM looks to set up resource centers in Brunswick and Pender Counties as well.
Though it may take years to fully recover from Hurricane Florence, with the help of organizations like WARM and people like JC Lyle, Wilmington is in especially good hands. Everyone here at tekMountain thanks all of the volunteers across the Carolinas and beyond, along with the donors from around the world that have contributed money, food, materials, and so much more. We’ve never been prouder to say we’re #ILMStrong!