By JOY CRIST
The Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men Emergency Assistance and Food Pantry Program – along with the Interfaith Community Outreach and Dare County Social Services – has been a supporting player for Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts since the storm hit Hatteras Island on Oct. 9.
A number of national and well-known organizations have also been present in Hatteras and Frisco villages after the storm, assisting with efforts to get back to normal.
And the director of the United Methodist Men, Dennis Carroll, attests that the locals themselves also deserve a lot of acclaim for helping with the rebuilding efforts post-Hurricane Matthew.
“Mary Ellon Ballance deserves all the credit in the world — and all the folks in the village, they pull together… So the Methodist Men are down there as support, because the people do so much for themselves.”
Now Hatteras Island is nearing the two-month mark after the hurricane, and some of the assistance available has started to dwindle – or will be disappearing soon. But even then the Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men will still be hard at work ensuring that local folks can receive the help they need.
“After the storm, we are considered the last resort,” says Carroll. “We’re here long-term, so generally we let FEMA, the Salvation Army, and the other agencies come and do their work, and we assist with the urgent situations.
“But our real mission is to be here long term when everyone else is gone,” he says. “We help when the unemployment kicks in or for the people who were left out from agency help, and so forth. We will probably be working for a year or more after the storm, when all the other agencies are long gone. [This is why] we’re often the last resort.”
The organization still has more than 100 people on a list – a list that at one point was roughly 200 names long – that are in need of assistance.
And as previous hurricanes have readily demonstrated, sometimes help is required months, or even a year or more, after a massive storm event has occurred.
In some cases, it’s merely a waiting game to see what insurance providers and/or FEMA will provide. Once those total calculations come in, the United Methodist Men can step in and fill in the gaps.
But in other cases, it’s simply because the work required to rebuild simply takes a very long time to complete.
“The biggest difficulty will be when the temporary housing goes away, and people’s houses are not yet ready to be occupied,” says Carroll. “A number of people are in motels and donated off-season rental properties, or staying with relatives, but a lot of that will go away because a lot of the FEMA dislocation allowance will go away after January.
“And houses that people have generously donated for off-season may go away too for the spring, and if we can’t get all of the insurance settlement and reconstruction going quickly, at some point there will be a crunch or a squeeze for housing.”
Another obstacle which delays the overall process is the simple fact that Hatteras Islanders aren’t traditionally the kind of people who readily ask for help, regardless of how bad a situation is.
“The older generation, especially in Hatteras, has a heritage of self-sufficiency,” says Carroll. “So we’re still finding people who are reported by friends and neighbors, who don’t report their own needs, and who suffer in silence, so to speak.”
“We always hear ‘Someone else needs [help] worse than I do.’ It’s a very common response.’”
And this self-sufficiency, even under dire circumstances, is not a new Matthew-related phenomenon either, as Carroll can attest from previous storm experiences.
“We found one older lady in Salvo, almost two years after Hurricane Irene in 2011, who didn’t have a real floor in her house,” says Carroll. “We finally took care of it, but we didn’t know about it for a long time. And we expect to find more of those cases [after Matthew.]”
It can be argued that the organization is well equipped to step in for these complicated situations, –and is well received — simply because of its long presence on the island.
The Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men is a 55-person strong organization that has been around for 38 years, with members from all faiths and denominations.
The organization is well recognized because of its longstanding reputation to apply assistance where it’s needed most, and to use 100 percent of funds received to help the needy. “We have zero administrative expenses,” says Carroll. “We pay for the electricity for the food pantry ourselves, and the appliances for the food pantry is provided by volunteers, so we can keep that promise that 100 percent goes to the needy.
The strong reputation is also was built by Walt Fulcher, according to Carroll, who founded the United Methodist Men 38 years ago and who was the director for 37 years of its operation. Under Mr. Fulcher’s leadership and tireless efforts, the organization grew from just a few members to one of the county’s largest organizations.
The food pantry has been used over 10,000 times, and the emergency assistance fund has provided over $1.5 million to help needy families, especially after hurricanes.
And in terms of what the United Methodist Men can do for Hurricane Matthew victims and anyone in need, the answer is more or less determined on a case-by-case basis.
On Dec. 1, roughly six weeks after Matthew hit, the organization had written checks for several homeless people to stay in a motel until they were able to receive a FEMA grant and for a woman in Hatteras to complete the work required to put her house back in livable condition.
“The volunteers and the community did the bulk of the work [on the woman’s house], but they came up a little short,” says Carroll. “So we bought the materials for the last bit of replacement and insulation. We have also bought a number of appliances for people who were uninsured and had no FEMA money. Those are the typical scenarios [we help with].”
Essentially, what the organization does is fill in the gaps for storm victims and anyone in need, to ensure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to emergency assistance.
And while people who need help are welcome to come to the United Methodist Men directly – or to their on-site food pantry at the United Methodist Church in Buxton, the best first course of action for help is the Social Services office in Frisco.
The Social Services staff members work with the Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men – as well as other local organizations – to put people in touch with the assistance that is most appropriate for their situation.
With that being said, there can be an unwarranted stigma attached to going to social services for help, which can cause people in need to stay silent — even months after a storm has caused devastation.
“That’s a handicap that we have to deal with,” says Carroll. “Many people end up not applying for things that they’re eligible for for the reason [that they’re embarrassed.]… We are trying to find those people and send volunteers to talk with them — someone besides Social Services. We generally assure them that the staff at Social Services are good people. They treat people with dignity, they’re easy to talk to, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing assistance.”
The Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men are continuing to work through the 100-plus person list they currently have, with Carroll noting that many of the requests are fairly easy ones, while others will be more difficult because of major rebuilding needs.
The good news is that because of the generosity of the community and out-of-area visitors and homeowners, the United Methodist Men are well equipped to handle the immediate issues at hand.
“We have been overwhelmed with the generosity we’ve received,” says Carroll. “So many of our donors are out of state, but they have connections with Hatteras Island, and they want to give to someone they know will use the money wisely, so we’ve been blessed.
“We are well equipped to help. And we are partners with Interfaith Outreach for Hatteras Island, which makes our funds even better.
“[At this point] we’re only limited by the pace of other agencies, and insurance settlements, and so forth,” adds Carroll. “Although we do expect to be limited by a shortage of labor when the reconstruction [heats up]… ”
As of this point, the Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men is most in need of monetary donations, and especially volunteers who can help with the upcoming rebuilding efforts. Anyone who has taken a drive along Highway 12 will likely notice a massive amount of remodeling projects still in process, and as this wave of rebuilding continues to grow, more volunteers will be required to ensure the outstanding jobs are completed.
“We’re done with the initial phase – clean up and salvage. So we’re now looking at getting the rest of the recovery underway,” says Carroll.
In past years, this wasn’t a problem – as area volunteers from all over the state and country pitched in and helped rebuild. But considering that Matthew caused such massive damage throughout North Carolina and beyond, workers who can pitch in are in shorter supply.
There are clearly obstacles in the not-so-distant future for the Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men, as well as the community in general. But as time has shown again and again, there’s still plenty of hope that any gaps in the massive effort to restore the community will be filled, and no one will be left behind.
“The island has dealt with this before, and we always get through it,” says Carroll. The people here are hardy, and resourceful.
“…It gives me satisfaction to see hardworking folks who need a helping hand, and to help them get over the hump, and help them on the way,” he adds. “Our work is not to help people for the long term, but give them a lift –when they need it.
“We just try to do our part. The United Methodist Men has such a long history and a long reputation that I just hope I can carry it on well enough.”
“We try, but we can always do more.”
IF YOU NEED HELP
Residents in need with emergency issues – such as electricity that is about to be turned off, or current uninhabitable conditions – should note that the first step to take is to contact the Dare County Social Services office.
“Social services is the clearinghouse,” says Carroll. “We’re only one charity – we’re the main one on the island, but there are also other services available, so the Social Services office in Frisco would be the best first stop.”
If you have a need, please reach out to DSS at 473-0550.
IF YOU WANT TO HELP
The local Really Free Markets, Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men, and other area charities have received plenty of clothing and other material donations. However, monetary donations and volunteer assistance is always appreciated.
Monetary Donations can be made to Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men at P.O. Box 1591, Buxton, NC 27920.
Potential volunteers can contact the Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men at [email protected]
In addition, gifts of new, unwrapped toys can be donated to the Hatteras Island Angel Gift program. Please call the Hatteras Methodist Church at 986-2149 for more information about donating or receiving these items.