The following is a Letter to the Editor from Lorelei Costa, Executive Director of the Outer Banks Community Foundation.
In the weeks since Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Outer Banks, I have had the incredible privilege of witnessing a community coming together to lift up its own. Two days ago, the local committee that is working to distribute the Community Foundation’s Ocracoke Disaster Relief Fund (i.e., the so-called Firehouse Committee) awarded its second round of much-needed monies to Ocracokers in desperate need of help after that terrible storm.
The committee’s first grants have focused on islanders with complex needs: all are local Ocracoke families who, in addition to being victims of storm damage, are also experiencing hardship from medical issues and/or disabilities. The committee awarded funds for an oxygen machine, wheelchair ramps, a walker, a lift chair, travel expenses for a person with special medical needs, and a golf cart for a mobility-impaired person, among other needs.
These are just the initial grants to Ocracoke families, and they will be the first of many more to come. The Outer Banks Community Foundation has now raised over $900,000 in charitable gifts to help Ocracokers in need after Hurricane Dorian. This is an amazing pot of money, contributed by more than 5,000 donors from across the Outer Banks, from across North Carolina, even from across the country—people who love Ocracoke and want to help locals get back on their feet after that devastating storm.
The money we have raised was given with two critical promises to our donors. First, we have vowed that every contribution would be distributed, down to the penny, to local individuals and families. Neither the Community Foundation, nor our partners on the ground, keep one thin dime to pay any expenses incurred in distributing the funds. The Community Foundation is covering our costs—and some of the
Firehouse Committee’s costs—from other sources. The Community Foundation is even paying the credit card fees associated with online donations so that the full amount of each gift goes to disaster victims.
Our second promise was that the Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund would go to full-time Ocracoke residents with demonstrated financial need, for necessities that are not covered by other sources. Keeping this promise requires time for the necessary, scrupulous due diligence. The devoted case workers with the Ocracoke Interfaith Relief and Recovery Team spend hours on each application to interview clients, verify need, help connect clients with any other available assistance, and then submit those applications, with names withheld, to the Firehouse Committee.
Why all of this time and care? Because in order to keep our promise to our donors, and to raise further funds, we must ensure that these generous contributions are put to the highest and best use, to the people with greatest need, for expenses for which there are no other avenues of support. It will be a long, tough winter for Ocracoke, and we want to spread this money as far as it will go. This promise to donors, and the Community Foundation’s 15 years of experience in disaster relief, is exactly why we have been able to raise the level of support that we have from prudent philanthropists.
Certainly this careful process has taken some time, especially the additional step of reviewing these applications anonymously, with all names and identifying information removed. This extra layer was added in direct response to a concern expressed by a few Ocracokers who wanted assurance that their applications would be assessed without partiality based on friendships or other relationships within this small island community.
It has taken time, and it’s worth it.
I have been astounded by the selflessness, leadership, integrity, and devotion demonstrated by the members of the Firehouse Committee. These incredible volunteers have dedicated uncountable hours to this project, with many long hours still to come. This is Ocracoke’s first major hurricane; given that, it’s amazing to me how quickly this group was able to convene, open a checking account, establish fair guidelines, create an application, determine a review process, and award the first monies.
But what impresses me most is that the service of these volunteers is in addition to the fire and emergency medical care they provide day and night to Ocracoke, without compensation. Many of these folks are also working other jobs to pay their own bills, and many experienced damage to their own homes and belongings—yet they are still helping their community.
The monies that have been awarded so far are just the beginning. The Firehouse Committee is reviewing applications as quickly and as carefully as possible. The good folks with the Ocracoke Interfaith Relief and Recovery Team are also working tirelessly, but are in dire need of additional caseworkers to process applications more quickly. The Community Foundation is sending volunteers from Dare County to help as best we can, while we also continue to help our Hatteras neighbors in need.
If you are a full-time Ocracoke resident and you have not yet completed an application for assistance, I would implore you to do so. Thank you for your patience while we and our partners work as hard as possible to help everyone in need. Remember that bills you have already had to pay may still be eligible for reimbursement.
The Outer Banks Community Foundation is here to assist you as best we can, as are our partners with the Ocracoke Fire Department and the Ocracoke Interfaith Relief and Recovery Team. Please join me in thanking these extraordinary volunteers for their efforts.