When I dropped my 7 year old son and 3 year old daughter off in Lumberton, NC on Friday October 7th, 2016 I gave them both huge hugs and kisses. I told them to be good for their grandparents while I was in Raleigh helping with the Come Out and Show Them music benefit. Hurricane Matthew was expected to pass through the area on Saturday evening with forecast predicting rain and wind, your typical Category 1 hurricane expectations. The kids and my parents would spend a rainy weekend playing games and enjoy each other’s company, I hoped. But Matthew drifted just slightly more West than expected and started its disasterous spin over Southeastern NC. Late Saturday night, my parents informed me that they had lost power and their water pressure had started to slow down.
I woke up Sunday morning, planning to travel down to Lumberton to pick up the kids. The sky was that perfect shade of blue and a random cloud occasionally floated across the sky. As I started my trek, I looked at Google Maps to see the traffic level. Clear roads creeped to yellow which creeped to Red in many places. I started talking with my parents as lines of stopped cars piled up on both Interstates and backroads. Word came that water levels were rising and roads were beginning to flood. I drove in circles on country roads, starting to panic that I wouldn’t be able to get to my children that day. All routes to Lumberton were blocked from the North. I turned around, headed back towards Raleigh and took a Western route that would take me several more hours to attempt a drive into Lumberton from the South. As I approached Interstate 95 from the West, a Highway Patrol car was blocking the entrance to the Interstate, permitting entrance onto the ramp.
After speaking with the officer and realizing that there were no Southern routes into the city, I sat down in the grass on the side of the highway on-ramp and lost my composure. I cried, while watching Red Cross volunteers try to find a way to deliver supplies, 18-wheelers take u-turns in the middle of the highway, and people start abandoning their cars. There was no power within 60 miles, which meant no gas. Desperation was starting to set in. I turned around again and drove back West (and eventually North to Raleigh), first driving 30 miles off course to fill up gas. In the end, I was on the road for 600 miles and 10 hours, failing at rescuing my children from an area that was starting to resemble a disaster zone. I cried multiple times on the ride home. My tearing came not only from my lack of success but the mounting struggles in a town I spent 20 formidable years of my life.
Monday came and my wife, Stacy, and I decided to try again. She had just returned from a wedding in Jacksonville, Florida, which had also been thwarted by Matthew. My parents had just lost water at their house and waters were rising in the neighborhoods. The local hospital were my sister works as a nurse lost water and was running off generator power. NICU babies were being transfered to more reliable care across the state in helicopters. As we drove to NC, curving in and out of backroads from the West, a levee was breached in Lumberton, pushing people out of their homes and onto roofs, boats and inflatable mattresses. Unbelievable messages continued to come in from my family.
We made it 10 miles from my parents, again trying to cross Interstate 95. Another officer told us it was impassable and told us to turn around and try again from the West. We had got word from a friend and family members that this route was the only passable way into Lumberton. We had info from the ground that the officers didn’t have. We pleaded to try a back road, with my wife weeping in the arms of a fire fighter. Our son has special medical needs from his cancer treatment as an infant and needed supplies before night fall. We were allowed through, passing the only gas station in the area with power. 50 people stood at the pumps, waiting with gas cans in hand to fill their generators. Others crossed the highway with the gas cans. Dystopian movie scenes I’ve watched for entertainment in the past were becoming reality. I teared up again.
After 3 total hours on the road (a drive that typically takes 1 hr 20 minutes), we pulled into my parents neighborhood. Our kids were delighted to see us and we gave hugs to everyone. Everyone was dishelved and tired. We discussed the events and struggles that were piling up for the community. We walked a block down the street from my parents and watched as one neighor delivered toilet paper to another in a small fishing boat. Behind them, we could barely see the top of a white Mercedes poking up above the water. Overnight, it had become entirely submerged in the center of the street.
We packed up our children in the car and headed back to Raleigh. The ride home itself had several detours with more cars going the wrong way on highway off ramps, trying to figure out how to get around several feet of standing water in the highway. As happy as I was that we had our children safely on our way back to Raleigh, it pained me to know that my family and thousands of other people were starting to lose crucial elements of life. Homes were ruined. Cars were submereged. Food and water supplies were dwindling.
I wanted to help, but didn’t know how from 100 miles away. A day later, I received a message from good friend and Capital Club 16 chef Jake Wolf asking about my family and relief efforts. After a few rounds of communication, he said “We should do something. Even something small would help.” I agreed.
So, we banded together together and I created Rally + Relief NC, an ongoing effort to raise funds for the affected area. Over 20 other local businesses have agreed to donate a portion of their Saturday October 15th sales to help this area. Each business has its own commitment or special for the day, from the mocha at Videri to a daily lunch special at Pharmacy Cafe to 10-30% of the day’s sales at multiple other restaurants and bars.
Donations will be collected from each business and given to the North Carolina Community Foundation’s Statewide Disaster Relief Fund in the coming week. Lumberton and surrounding area will be out of water for 2-4 weeks and even then, the water may not be completely safe to use and drink. Many residents will have to find new homes, clothes, potentially jobs and more life essentials. This is only the first in what I hope will be a series of Rally + Relief NC benefits over the next coming weeks to raise funds, food and water donations for NC.
So, if you’re not at the State Fair on Saturday and fancy yourself a snack, a drink, a meal, or even a hair trim in Downtown Raleigh, please pop by one of the participating businesses and know that you are giving to a cause that has affected our state in a once in a lifetime, or even a once in a 1,000 years, way.
Founder, Rally + Relief