It’s been a long while since I have published in this space.
Oh yes, I’ve had several false starts, and many thoughts running through the old brain; “…that might make a good blog post,” I think. And then, nothing. I’ve had no energy to write, no words of comfort or peace to a world gone crazy, nothing to say that hasn’t been said…
At least part of that changed last week when we spent five days in Eastern Kentucky working with Disaster Relief at Christian Appalachian Project. CAP, as it is known by friends and family, workers and volunteers, has been in Eastern Kentucky since 1964. Father Ralph Beiting was assigned a parish in Berea, Kentucky and soon envisioned a volunteer organization that would assist with poverty relief in the poorest areas of Eastern Kentucky.
Mr. HC and I had been to CAP four times in the years before the pandemic. We went with groups and worked on houses. We built ramps, repaired roofs, led a team of college kids on spring break, and cooked for those kids too. One March we weathered a surprise snow storm that left six inches on the ground and no electricity for two days.
It was a Thursday evening in late July and we sat down to watch the evening news. It was the second day of flooding in Eastern Kentucky and there was the Governor at the Pikeville Community Center. Paintsville, Martin, Floyd County–they were all familiar to us. We sat in silence, almost in tears, wondering if these were people we’d met, houses we’d worked on…
Later that evening I checked my email and found one from Becky at Christian Appalachian Project. “Dear Carol,” it read. “CAP’s Disaster Relief Command Center is currently set-up in Floyd County at our CAP facility in Martin, Kentucky. We will begin assessing the damage August 1. Soon after, the cleanup will begin. We need volunteers to assess properties, begin cleanup, help distribute needed items to families, cook, and help in the volunteer lodging facility. WE NEED YOU!”
I read it to Mr. HC. And then I said, “This might be an email from God….”
That night we replied to the email. The next day we filled out online paperwork, that afternoon our registration was accepted. We were going in a week. Friends from our two churches donated money and supplies and we left on Sunday with a truckload of mops, bleach, gloves, buckets, brooms, and garbage bags, wondering if our two old bodies and minds could do what they would ask of us. It all came together so quickly, we didn’t have time to panic.
We worked at the Distribution Center all week. Unloading trucks and cars of donated supplies, moving items around every hour. 50 mops disappeared in 2 hours. $700 in sheets and comforters were gone in a morning. Boxes of underwear were unloaded and passed through windows. More diapers were delivered so we had to move other things around to accommodate them. More clothing was delivered, so we had to change how we stocked it. On Wednesday my iPhone registered 14,978 steps. You’re walking more than last week, it told me.
Because we worked at the Distribution Center we did not go out with the teams who were mucking out or gutting houses, so we didn’t see the damage. But we heard firsthand the stories from the folks who came in for help. They were heartbreaking. Some had no transportation because the car was flooded and no longer worked. One family still had no electricity after three weeks. They were eating Army MREs (meals ready to eat) that someone had given them. We were able to give them some fast food gift cards; most everyone just wanted cleaning supplies, until they saw that we also had sheets, towels, personal care items, and clothing.
One family had moved the kids to the grandparents’ house, so they could take up carpets and throw out ruined stuff without the kids seeing it. Their other grandma was sleeping on an air mattress in their living room until they could find her a new place to live. A young pregnant woman was staying with her dad until it could be decided if her house was salvageable. He was letting her borrow his truck for work because her car was ruined.
Like the damage done by Katrina, this damage will be around for years. At the Distribution Center were also state offices and FEMA, but these ruined houses aren’t going to be rebuilt quickly. Here are some other articles to read for more information:
Unlike just the disaster relief organizations, CAP is in it for the long haul. They’ve been around for almost fifty years rebuilding houses, running youth camps, food pantries, thrift stores–and it’s mainly done with volunteers like you and me who give up a week or two, or a year or two of their lives. Before we left, the team there estimated that the Distribution Center at CAP would probably be open for several more months. Here was the list they tacked up on Friday, the day we left.
The work is hard, the fellowship and the camaraderie is amazing, laughter and tears are prevalent, the food is great, and you collapse exhausted in your bunk bed (hopefully a bottom cot) around 8:30. Coffee is on around 6; breakfast is at 7. See you then.