One Year After Hurricane Matthew
While the piles of debris left from Hurricane Matthew last year are no longer visible along our roadways, what does remain and perhaps is stronger now is that Lowcountry spirit which unites us all. “This past year we saw our community come together like never before after the devastating impacts of Hurricane Matthew,” says Tina Gentry, United Way of the Lowcountry President & CEO. “We saw people throughout our community step up in a variety of ways to help our neighbors in need, demonstrating what it truly means to live UNITED.”
As our community continues to rebuild, Gentry says United Way of the Lowcountry (UWLC) continues to help meet the needs of people in our community and create positive, lasting change. “Through the support of our community, United Way helps to meet the immediate needs of our neighbors in Beaufort and Jasper Counties through our funded partner agencies and our internal HELPLINE,” says Gentry.
UWLC has a memorandum of agreement with Beaufort County and is designated as the agency responsible for collecting, administering and distributing funds for disaster services. “We are proud to partner with Beaufort County and serve our community in this capacity,” says Gentry.
In the first few weeks following Hurricane Matthew, the call volume to the HELPLINE increased by 1,000 percent. “It was a humbling time as we saw clients who never needed assistance in the past, call our HELPLINE as a result of the hurricane,” says Chrystie Turner, Vice President of Community Impact for United Way of the Lowcountry. “Some of these clients were donors to United Way and never imagined they would be on the receiving end. Many just needed a helping hand to make ends meet due to lost wages and evacuation costs.”
UWLC expanded the existing HELPLINE and partnered with Beaufort County’s Alliance for Human Services to address the rising needs of those impacted by the storm. Through the HELPLINE, they assisted residents and provided referrals to those with unmet needs as a result of Hurricane Matthew including food, clothing, shelter and other needs.
“Through our partnership, United Way’s HELPLINE serves as a bridge to provide guidance while navigating through government programs, as well as an avenue to a variety of local resources,” says Pamela Cobb, Disaster Recovery Coordinator with Beaufort County. “Citizens are able to obtain an assortment of information, access to a variety of different agencies and resources. It provides resources to our citizens before and after FEMA.”
In response to the increased need for assistance following Hurricane Matthew, the UWLC Board voted to allocate an additional $100,000 from its endowment fund to front-line partner agencies including Salvation Army, HELP of Beaufort, Bluffton Self Help and the Hilton Head Island Deep Well Project to provide immediate assistance to those impacted by the storm. The funds were used to help those impacted by the hurricane with emergency/ temporary shelter, utility assistance to prevent disruption of service, propane gas charges for heating and cooking and rental/mortgage assistance to prevent eviction.
The lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew were tested in September with Tropical Storm Irma. Although the Lowcountry was fortunate Irma did not impact the area to the extent Matthew did less than a year earlier, Gentry says the storm displaced some families from their homes. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma, preparations are underway for any storm that may come our way.
“There are still improvements that can be made once citizens come back into the county after an evacuation. Our goal is to provide more immediate resources to provide a smooth transition which will ultimately expedite the recovery process for disaster survivors,” said Cobb. “Having this existing relationship between the county and United Way makes preparing for natural disasters smoother but also provides an infrastructure that is prepared to assist citizens every day of the year.”
Looking for assistance? The United Way of the Lowcountry HELPLINE provides information and resources to those needing assistance and is available by calling 843.524.HELP.