By: Donald Felice
In a race against time, the local community around Myrtle Beach and Conway, S.C. unified itself into a well-coordinated and systematic sand-bagging crusade to help neighbors caught in the path of rising flood waters from the Waccamaw River. What started out as a few students at Socastee High School trying to help friends quickly went viral throughout the community. When flood waters prevented continuing operations at Socastee, the growing community relief effort moved to St. James High School six miles down the road.
The Waccamaw River is expected to crest at 22 feet on Wednesday, September 26, over four feet above the record of 17.9 feet set two years ago during Hurricane Matthew.
Matt and Sydney Tillman from Pawley’s Island brought their young children, Anne Caroline and Connor, to help. “We’re okay,” says Matt, “But so many of our friends and family are not. We just want to help any way we can.”
It’s a well-engineered mission with a purpose going on at St. James High. Circling the large parking lot is a wide loop of cars, trucks and trailers. Inside the loop of vehicles are mounds of dirt and hundreds of people dumping, shoveling, bagging, and hauling. The outer loop people need sandbags to protect their homes from rising waters. The inner loop crowd is a menagerie of volunteers; family, friends, students, business owners, Sunday School classes – all with a common purpose to help their families, friends and neighbors. The waiting line of vehicles is backed up out of the high school property and well down Salem Road.
“We’re coming through – move back! I don’t want anybody to get hurt here,” says Vann Pennell, principal of St. James High School, as he carefully quarterbacks the overall operation and directs the line of large dump trucks hauling sand into the inner loop. “Dump it right here,” he says, pointing to a cleared spot with eager volunteers waiting nearby with shovels in hand.
Principal Pennell and band director Chuck Capps have operations well-organized and performing as well as the St. James Marching Band. Capps has turned his marching band microphone and speaker unit used for practices into an effective centralized loudspeaker to communicate Pennell’s directives. “It’s great to see how families come together to help each other,” says Capps.
A Salvation Army canteen (mobile feeding unit) from Charlotte, North Carolina has followed the sandbagging efforts in providing meals and drinks to the hard-working volunteers. It is parked alongside the walkway to the high school just outside the loop of vehicles loading sandbags. “We appreciate The Salvation Army’s efforts to join in,” says Pennell between directives, “It makes you want to cry to see their warmth and graciousness at a time like this. Thank you.”
“This is what we do,” says Bob Mullins, a retired Salvation Army officer serving on the canteen as he prepares a table to serve the waiting crowd. “We help people in their time of need.”
“Fred and Cheryl Harris recently moved from New Jersey to the Myrtle Beach area and were quick to join in the efforts to help their new neighbors. “We attend Beach Church, and our pastor said this morning that they needed help here,” says Fred, leaning on his shovel. “Your heart just goes out for these people.”
The Army of Salvation Army officers, employees and volunteers are working to feed, hydrate and give hope to people impacted by Hurricane Florence. Currently, The Salvation Army has over fifty canteens in service in the Carolinas that have served over a combined 250,000 meals, drinks and snacks to those impacted by Hurricane Florence.