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The United Way Neighbors Helping Neighbors Recover From The Storm

story by carol lauvray      photography by paul nurnberg

Beaufort is featured in just about every list of great places in the United States to retire and visit, thanks to its breathtaking coastal beauty and historic charm. Whether you were born here or moved to town just this year, you’d probably say there’s no place you’d rather live. So what sets Beaufort apart from many other charming historic towns? Many believe it’s the sense of community found in Beaufort. Evidence of Beaufort’s community spirit, concern and caring for neighbors has been demonstrated in the countless acts of kindness and instances of neighbors helping neighbors in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in October.

The spirit of community within Beaufort is exemplified through the work of the United Way of the Lowcountry, which has rallied the community’s resources in response to Hurricane Matthew to assist hundreds of people whose lives have been impacted by the storm. “Most of the people who come to us for help are employed, hard-working people whose lives have been derailed as the result of one crisis, like Hurricane Matthew,” says Tina Lamb Gentry, President and CEO of the United Way of the Lowcountry, Inc. “We work to meet people’s immediate needs when a crisis occurs by funding our partner agencies such as the Salvation Army, HELP of Beaufort, Bluffton Self-Help, and the HHI Deep Well Project. These agencies are working on the front lines to provide people in our community with assistance for basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter and utility bills.

Hurricane Disaster Relief Assistance

Tina says that after Hurricane Matthew, Beaufort County’s Human Services Alliance and the United Way of the Lowcountry partnered to coordinate disaster relief for the County.  In addition, the United Way of the Lowcountry has a memorandum of agreement with Beaufort County to be the agency responsible for collecting, administering and distributing funds for disaster relief services. People who wish to make donations to the Hurricane Matthew Recovery Relief Fund or volunteer their services can do so on the United Way of the Lowcountry’s website at uwlowcountry.org or call 843-982-3040.

The agency also has posted an “Available Resources” link on its website to direct residents to resources for food assistance, tree removal and home damages. Through its HELPLINE, the United Way of the Lowcountry is taking calls for disaster relief assistance and providing referrals to residents with unmet needs. People who are looking for information on assistance as a result of the hurricane, can call the United Way of the Lowcountry’s HELPLINE at 843-524-HELP (4357). “Before the hurricane, we received approximately 30 calls a week on the 843-524-HELP phone line, but the number increased to an average of 107 calls a day in the weeks immediately following the disaster,” Tina emphasized.  She said the call load increased 1,000 percent in the first weeks following the hurricane.

Connecting Residents with the Disaster Relief Assistance They Need

In the aftermath of the storm, the agency is employing a triage system to assess residents’ needs and refer them to various sources of assistance. “If they have damage to their homes, we refer them to FEMA. If they need assistance with food we’ll refer them to agencies like the Salvation Army, HELP of Beaufort, Bluffton Self-Help, or the HHI Deep Well Project,” Tina said. The Board of Directors of the United Way of the Lowcountry recently voted to allocate $100,000 from its endowment fund to local front-line agencies like these so they can continue to assist individuals and families with disaster relief. “It will be at least a year before we’re finished with disaster relief here in Beaufort County,” Tina said.”

“People have many different needs as a result of the hurricane,” she explained. “They may need rental assistance or money to pay a mortgage because they spent the money intended for those monthly expenses to stay in a motel and eat in restaurants during the evacuation. Many folks lost wages due to the evacuation when they could not work, while others are now out of work because the business where they were employed was damaged in the storm. Nearly everyone lost refrigerated food due to the extended period of time the power was out. Others have extensive damage to their homes as the result of flooding, wind or falling trees. And, if people did not have insurance, they cannot afford to pay for the necessary repairs to their damaged homes. In some cases they cannot live in their homes due to damage and must find temporary housing.”

Tina says the United Way of the Lowcountry can assist residents by connecting them with the resources needed to help them. That could mean directing residents to FEMA for help with home repairs or to people within the community who will volunteer to do minor repairs. The agency also helps by locating sources of funds to help people make needed repairs, and to pay rent or make mortgage payments.

“We’re seeing clients we’ve never seen before—people who work every day, but who are now facing a crisis as a result of the hurricane’s impact on their lives. It was so humbling to be in contact with a man who has donated for years to the United Way of the Lowcountry, but who now needs help from our agency. We want to reassure people in our community that there’s no need to be embarrassed because you need these services. We are here to help you when you need it!” Tina emphasized.

Beaufort’s Community Spirit of Helping Others

Tina Lamb Gentry has close ties to Beaufort. She spent much of her youth here and graduated from Beaufort High School before heading to college at USC and later moving to Asheville, N.C. Her roots are here in the Lowcountry, where she now lives with her family since returning in 2013 to assume the position of President and CEO of the United Way of the Lowcountry. That’s why Tina knows all about Beaufort’s community spirit, and its concern and caring for neighbors. Her work at the United Way of the Lowcountry helps make a positive difference within the entire community every day by working to meet residents’ immediate needs and to improve their lives through lasting change. Tina says, “At the United Way of the Lowcountry, we couldn’t accomplish what we do every day without the overwhelming commitment and support that the caring people of this community give us!”

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