Feeding hot meals to Hurricane Florence victims
With a toddler on her hip, Jessica Chapman peeked her head out the front door, confused about who and what was blaring through a speaker outside her home.
The confusion didn’t last long. The 27-year-old - with her pink, blue and purple hair popping out of a bun - walked through the mud barefoot to grab hot food being passed out by the American Red Cross Wednesday morning.
“For me, it was more seeing the look on my kid’s face,” she said. “It wasn’t a bag of chips for lunch. They were so happy and it put me in tears. There is no greater feeling than to see your kid happy and seeing your kid happy for the first time in days over a hot plate of food. Yeah, it makes you feel crappy as a mom because you weren’t able to do it before, but the relief and joy to know that people out there care enough to do this? It’s indescribable.”
The hot dogs, chicken patties, peas and other food were prepared a little more than a dozen miles away at Temple Baptist Church in New Bern. There, the Baptist Men in their signature yellow shirts had gathered from across the state and country to cook more than 30,000 hot meals during lunch and dinner.
“They are God’s people. If it weren’t for people like them,” Chapman trailed off. “We’ve been without power. They were the first hot meal that we’ve had in four, five days. They are godsent. God is going to come down here personally to bless them and their family.”
President Donald Trump visited the kitchen setup — called Manna 1 after the food that fed the Israelites in the Old Testament — to praise the volunteers and oversee the recovery efforts Wednesday. The Baptist Men are pros at responding to disasters now. It was the second hurricane for Richard Saltz, who traveled from Hickory to help in New Bern.
“I think it’s important to put faith into action,” he said. “We are called to help people. People are without homes, are stressed and no power and nothing to eat. They are desperate.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many of the men and women who have traveled to volunteer with the religious organization. Justin Smith came in from Morganton and had previously worked on teams tearing out water-damaged sheet rock and installation. On Wednesday, he was helping move pallets of food.
“People are able to learn about Christ through this work,” he said. “And it seems to make a lasting impact instead of just making a show and then leaving. There’s a lasting impact felt in the community after they show up.”
Those able to navigate around flooded water and sink holes could drive over to pick up their meals. Otherwise, trucks from the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and other nonprofits loaded up pallets of water, food and snacks and delivered them across the region. The communities included Redwood Terrace Mobile Home Park, a trailer park located between New Bern and Vanceboro in Craven County that houses just under 100 trailers including the one Chapman has called home since February.
Chapman lives in the trailer with two other adults and three children. . While they listened to the wind and rain Wednesday and Thursday they wondered if this was the worse Florence could do. It wasn’t.
They lost power Thursday and a tree snapped in half behind their trailer, burying a neighbor’s Jeep. Water rushed in sideways banging on their windows so hard they thought they might break.
The trailer roof shifted, causing cracks in the ceiling, which bowed in some places. Soft spots have popped up in the carpet including in the bedroom where the 3-year-old, 2-year-old and nearly 1-year-old sleep. Chapman apologized for the flies in the trailer; they got in when she opened the windows to create a breeze.
She said she tried to get the maintenance staff to fix a ceiling fan and other trouble spots in the trailer, but it had yet to happen. She said she plans to call a health inspector to try and force the property manager to fix her home.
“I’m not optimistic,” Chapman said. “I’ll believe it when I can see it. We’ll take whatever money we can get and have to fix it. We pay $600 a month and we’re all out of work.”
Pati Cundiff bit off a piece of hot dog before she crossed the muddy, puddle-filled driveway to her trailer. She’s not sure when she’ll be able to get her Jeep from under the tree, but she wasn’t worried. It’d been a distraction for the children living in the park who kept stopping by wanting to see the tree branch. She’d picked up most of the other branches that filled her yard.
On a different lane of trailers, Anthony Wooten and friends sat outside in plastic chairs as the Red Cross truck came through. He lives in New Bern but was at the mobile home park to check on his father, Henry. He’d lived in the trailer park for three years, but had been staying at a nearby elementary school turned shelter. They all grabbed hot meals and bags full of water bottles.
“When a storm comes it’s going to do one of two things,” said Anthony Wooten. “It’s going to tear you apart or bring a community together. And it seems like everybody across the state is coming together, from all the different areas. It’s really a blessing.”