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Responding to Hurricane Matthew

#FillUpAUHaul brings aid to Robeson County

By Susan Hudson, University Gazette (This article is reprinted with permission.)

Brandi Brooks Davis ’07
Brandi Brooks Davis posted photos from operation #FillUpAUHaul on her Facebook page. Volunteers sort and pack donations that overflow from the Davis garage.

At first, all Hurricane Matthew meant to Brandi Brooks Davis ’07 was that she and her husband, Brad Davis, both rabid season ticket holders, would be sitting in a steady rain at Kenan Stadium Oct. 8, 2016, watching the Tar Heels take on Virginia Tech.

“We really had no idea that Matthew had changed its course,” recalled Davis, director of leadership annual giving at Carolina. But it had. The category 4 hurricane that had blown through Cuba and Haiti, then hammered the Bahamas, had been downgraded to a category 1 storm but continued to hug the coastline and dump rain all day on Eastern North Carolina. Hourly rainfall estimates were as high as 7 inches per hour, according to the Weather Channel. The lights were out for 20,000 people in Robeson County.

Davis’ parents in Laurinburg were two of them. During the game, her mother texted that the power was out there, and the couple invited her parents and sister and his mom to stay with them in Raleigh until the power was restored. All Sunday, they kept hearing bad news from more relatives in the area. They decided that when their parents went back home, they would pack the car with supplies.

Davis looks for a place to put a box of cereal as they pack a truck.
Davis looks for a place to put a box of cereal as they pack a truck.

But even worse news came Monday morning, when her sister called to say that the levees in Lumberton had broken and floodwaters were rising quickly. The Lumber River had exceeded its record crest by nearly four feet.

The family realized that no one would be going home soon. The place they and their Lumbee relatives and friends had called home for generations was now a disaster area.

“We decided we’d fill up our Jeep, and thought it would be really cool if we could fill up a U-Haul and take it down,” Davis said. She posted the idea on Facebook and Twitter, promoting the effort with the hashtag #FillUpAUHaul. She also let her neighbors know what she was doing using the NextDoor app.

Donations began to pour in, even from Canada and England, from people who had seen the flooding on the news and wanted to help. Some contributed through Paypal and others used Amazon to ship items directly to her in Raleigh. On the ground, she and her mother, a former teacher, organized about 35 volunteers each day to sort, stack and pack the supplies now overflowing from the garage. The first load went to shelters in Robeson County that Tuesday.

Other Native Americans, many of them Triangle area Lumbees, joined the effort. Bobbi Locklear Stanley, a Carolina alumna and dentist in Cary, contacted a tribal member to donate an 18-wheeler, which they set up in a Kroger parking lot in Cary to collect items.

Volunteers at the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina tribal center in Lumberton sort and organize supplies for community members.
Volunteers at the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina tribal center in Lumberton sort and organize supplies for community members.

Another Lumbee, Marcus Collins, associate dean and director of student success and academic counseling, and his wife, Rhonda Collins, pitched in to help. “He was instrumental in making all this happen and picked up donations across campus,” Davis said. “With November being American Indian Heritage Month, it’s especially appropriate that we’re helping our tribal community, which is a unique community.”

On Nov. 9, the group loaded its fifth U-Haul. She’s grateful to “all the really generous people” who have helped and to her work colleagues who covered for her while she took leave to do disaster relief. “It shows how fortunate it is to work for a university that truly understands work-life balance and how important it is.”

Through cold weather and the holiday season, the need continued. Through the end of November, the American Indian Center collected cleaning supplies, school supplies and nonperishable food items.

Davis and her husband  delivered supplies each weekend for a while, and still keep tabs on friends and neighbors in the area.

Helping a neighbor in need

Cans of soup aren’t typically on the list of things to grab before you leave the house for a Carolina basketball game.

But hundreds of Carolina fans brought thousands of canned goods and non-perishables to the Tar Heels’ opening exhibition game Nov. 4 to help the relief effort for Eastern North Carolina following the destruction of Hurricane Matthew.

“We knew the people in the Pembroke area are really hurting, so we wanted to help,” said Susan Dunn after dropping off two bags of donations.

Spearheaded by Chancellor Carol L. Folt and UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings, the food drive was an opportunity to help the people of Robeson County, where nearly 600 families were forced to leave their homes due to the storm.

Held in coordination with Harris Teeter’s Million Meals Challenge, the drive had sites set up at the Smith Center’s gates for fans to drop off their donations on the way into the game.

The donations of canned goods, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food items were distributed to Second Harvest Food Bank, which provided aid for residents near UNC Pembroke.

“I hope it was very successful,” said Carolina coach Roy Williams, who coached with UNC Pembroke Coach Ben Miller at Kansas. “We need to be aware of those things and the people down there affected by the hurricanes and floods who have had a tough, tough time.”

By Nov. 14, 2,159 pounds of food had been collected – enough for 1,800 meals.

“It has been a challenging time for our community, but also an opportunity to come together and grow stronger,” Miller said. “We are blessed to have neighbors and friends in Chapel Hill and around the state that have stepped up and been there by our side.  It makes me proud to call North Carolina home.”



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