NC group keeps giving

Barbara Tripp couldn't say no to 19 tractor-trailer loads of free sheetrock donated to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Floyd.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | GOLDSBORO, N.C. | November 11, 2002



"We realized that there was much more to do out there than just Floyd."

—Barbara Tripp


Barbara Tripp couldn't say no to 19 tractor-trailer loads of free sheetrock.

She knew somebody was going to need them.

That was back in September 1999, when sheetrock here was in short supply and high demand. Hurricane Floyd has just scourged the countryside-reducing once-thriving communities to piles of broken brick and soggy sheetrock.

Homes had to be rebuilt. Lives had to be put back together. And Tripp knew that all that sheetrock would come in handy.

All she needed was a place to put it. She went looking for a warehouse.

Tripp's search led to the creation of a volunteer group today known as MERCI -- the Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiative, a volunteer branch of the North Carolina Conference of United Methodists.

Originally known as the Disaster Recovery Ministries, the group headed by Tripp changed its name in July, in part to honor the local Methodist bishop -- Marion Edwards and also to reflect its new and changing duties.

Beginning as a volunteer effort to help residents recover from Floyd, MERCI's efforts now extend as far away as Afghanistan, Liberia and Armenia.

With seven full-time employees, Tripp included, MERCI has harnessed the energy of 42,700 volunteers, who have collectively logged 743,376 work-hours. Most of these volunteers are Methodists, but between 30 and 40 percent are not, and while MERCI directs most of its efforts on eastern North Carolina, volunteers come from all over the country.

"We realized that there was much more to do out there than just Floyd," Tripp said.

But Floyd gave them plenty to do. On average they were fixing 100 homes a month.

Three years later, recovery is still not fully complete, but enough is finished to free up time for other volunteer work.

Rather than just "shut it down and walk away," Tripp said MERCI expanded its home construction program to reach out not only to those affected by hurricanes but also to those affected by less visible problems-such as poverty.

MERCI puts up brand-new stick-built homes for qualified low-income families --families who live on rented property and who may never have owned a home, as well as families who live in homes deemed substandard.

These construction projects are done in conjunction with the USDA, which provides low-interest loans for the financing of construction.

"Between disasters you have to have something to justify your existence," Tripp said.

Building homes for the rural poor, however, is not all that MERCI does when there isn't hurricane damage to deal with.

Tripp said the MERCI warehouse has also been stockpiling all types of materials-food, medical equipment, clothing and school supplies-and shipping them out to foreign countries.

A big recipient now is Afghanistan.

More than 5,000 "school kits" -- packages containing clipboards, paper, pencils, pens, crayons, socks, washcloths and soap-were sent to Afghanistan in late October, Tripp said. Another batch of about 5,000 should be on its way by Christmas.

While MERCI helps ship the kits, Tripp said the school children of North Carolina are responsible for the putting them together, and that the idea was conceived by the N.C. Superintendent of Schools.

Afghanistan has also been the recipient of a shipment of about 4,200 blankets that MERCI sent out for Christmas of 2001.

Armenia has also received packages from MERCI, as part of Project Agape. Three shipments of medical supplies, nonperishable food, clothing and school kits have already been sent to the impoverished former Soviet republic.

Tripp said that volunteer activity has dropped off lately, mainly because there have been no obvious disasters here recently.

But normalcy can be misleading, she said, and the recovery from Hurricane Floyd is still not finished. Then there's the outreach to impoverished foreign countries. All these activities need volunteer efforts to function.

During the summers, youth groups do some of this work. These groups of five teens and one adult live at the MERCI headquarters for a week, and they are housed in one of three mobile homes.

Next summer MERCI will establish a program called Foottrails. This program will take responsibility for training and leading the teams of youth volunteers, who, in past summers, have been guided by their own leadership.

"We're really just disaster recovery expanded," she said. "We just took that ball and ran with it."


Related Topics:

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

Teams continue to rebuild in SC

Helping hands following 3 disasters


More links on Disaster Recovery

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