NC shares gift of recovery

BY L.C. RAY | Greenville, NC | November 2, 2000


Cynthia Moore went to bed the night of Sept. 15, 1999, expecting to ride out the storm in her dreams. But when she awoke the

next morning, the nightmare had hit. Water filled her mobile home living room to her nine-year-old daughter's shoulders.

Local emergency officials ferried Moore's family out by boat and they never saw their worldly goods again.

After spending time in a shelter, with friends, and in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer, Moore finally got her

family into their own three-bedroom apartment. They moved in this summer with a few changes of clothing.

"We were so happy to have our own place, we didn't mind sleeping on the floor," Moore said. Then she heard about the

Greenville Interfaith Fellowship Team (GIFT) and went for help.

"They were so nice," she said. "They gave me a living room suite and beds and mattresses." When Moore's 15-year-old son, with

his size 13 feet and size 46 men's pants, needed clothes for school, GIFT director Marcy Romary applied for a grant on Moore's

behalf.

Moore just found out a grant request was approved.

"I was so excited, I could hardly talk," Moore said. "I am very grateful for all (GIFT's) help. Most people push you aside, they

kept at it until they found the money to get the clothes."

Moore is one of 165 families the one-year-old interfaith organization has served since Hurricane Floyd hit Eastern North

Carolina last September. Formed to deal with the abundance of resources that poured into the community following the worst

flooding in the state's history, GIFT founders say the response to their operation has exceeded all their expectations.

"We had a startup fund of $500," said founding member and second vice-president Martha Matthews. "We set a budget for

ourselves at $100,000, and I thought how will we ever raise that much money."

But since that Nov. 7, 1999, inaugural meeting, the group has tripled its budget, raising more than $300,000. The challenge now

lies in maintaining the momentum as the tremendous needs continue.

Estimates following Floyd say that more than 7,000 homes were completely destroyed. Through the disaster hotline, more than

87,000 people registered with FEMA; 67,000 reported housing damage.

Pitt County, which is served by GIFT, had 10,675 teleregistrations of housing damage. Dramatic reports after the flood stirred

volunteers and donations in droves. Many families are back together; the shock of the disaster worn off, life pretty much back

to normal. But for hundreds more, the recovery has not even begun.

"It's surprising that every day, more people come through our doors asking for help for the first time," said Cliff Harvell,

regional director for the NC Conference United Methodist Church Disaster Recovery Ministries (UMCDR), which shares a

building with GIFT. "And I've only got one team working this week. We need to let people know that there is still a lot of work

to do."

To avoid duplication of services in their area GIFT partnered with UMCDR to assist flood survivors. After working out some

initial adjustments, each has found its niche. The UMCDR utilizes volunteer workers to handle the housing rehabilitation and

rebuilding. GIFT takes care of the furniture, appliances, and household item needs.

GIFT limits aid to $1,500 per family. Assistance goes to each family in the form of vouchers from local and out-of-state

merchants, as well as donated items that are in excellent condition. In some cases, GIFT will help with a down payment or first

month's rent.

"We're flexible," said GIFT Director Romary. "We don't have the kind of red tape that is inherent in government programs."

Harvell credits the success of the organization to Romary's flexibility.

"She understands that things can't be carved in stone," he said. "Sometimes we change every day."

Romary is the group's second director, first in the spot full time. She knew GIFT would offer a positive working environment

after her experience as a volunteer in rebuilding a flooded home for an elderly couple. At the time, she was director of the

Greenville/Pitt County Homebuilders' Association, which took on the volunteer project.

"It was so rewarding," Romary said. "This couple had lived in their house for 43 years and we rebuilt it in four days."

Life has been exciting in the GIFT offices as well as throughout North Carolina's eastern half. Resources have been abundant,

and volunteers sometimes in excess.

"We may have raised $300,000, but that is how much we spend," Romary said. "We spend it as fast as we get it." And the needs

are not going away.

It is the long-term impetus that holds the commitment of GIFT. It is comprised of every congregation in the community,

including the Jewish Synagogue and Hindu Temple in addition to the numerous Christian households of faith. Romary said that

she continues to reach out to the congregations who have not yet made a commitment to the recovery effort.

"We know that it will be the faith community that will stay and keep up the work," she said.

GIFT, like most state and local agencies, predicts a three-year recovery process for most of the Floyd victims in North Carolina.

And while the one-year celebration is a joyous success in Greenville, GIFT volunteers and staff are beginning to look beyond

Floyd.

"We plan to stay," Romary said. "We are focused on Floyd right now, but we expect to stay after to offer emergency assistance

to families, whether the need is from natural disasters, such as a fire or wind or storm, or the result of a short-term financial

distress, we plan to be here to help with evictions, utility bills and household furnishings."

And by then, GIFT may have a new enthusiastic volunteer. "As soon as I get back on my feet, I'm going to volunteer," said

Cynthia Moore. "They all know me there."


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