Shelter coordinators and evacuees learned hard lessons from Hurricane Matthew and have had a year to prepare for Hurricane Irma.
Evacuee Fred Wrice made his second hurricane-related trip to Augusta on Friday evening. The Brunswick, Ga., native and his family came to the area during Matthew last October without planning ahead and spent one night sleeping in their vehicle before finding a hotel. This year, Wrice’s wife called the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and found out about shelter at Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church. The family already had hotel reservations beginning Sunday night but opted to get ahead of the storm and spend two nights at the shelter.
The church was well-prepared for Wrice and the other 180 guests in its care.
“We learned last year during Hurricane Matthew when we had the shelter open, and we’ve actually been training people through Red Cross,” said Julia Crim, the church’s minister of discipleship and outreach. “We have almost 50 people here who have been through Red Cross and United Methodist Committee on Relief training.”
Last week, the Red Cross contacted Crim to alert her to the need for a shelter for Irma evacuees. She said volunteers rose to the occasion and were prepared to open the shelter earlier than expected.
“We have well over a hundred volunteers here just yesterday and today and they are signed up for however long we need,” she said. “To mobilize that many volunteers that quickly tells me it’s got to be in their DNA before we even started.”
The Red Cross is providing snacks, cots and blankets, and the Salvation Army is providing meals for evacuees, but volunteers at Trinity on the Hill stepped up to provide extra items that they saw a need for last year. Through an email blast to the congregation, Gwen requested towels for evacuees to shower at the Salvation Army and Family Y, as well as personal toiletries, pillows and sheets. The information was shared on the church’s website and social media, allowing the Augusta community to see the needs of the first string of evacuees.
“We’re here to make it as comfortable as possible for our guests,” said Gwen Wood, the church’s coordinator for donated items. “Their needs come first.”
Wood oversaw the resource room at Trinity on the Hill, where an overflow of supplies was available for runners to take to guests and volunteers. The supplies came in handy for evacuees who did not have supplies.
“Most of them were just leaving and didn’t have room,” Crim said.
On Saturday afternoon, Trinity on the Hill and the Henry Brigham Community Center were at full capacity, and Warren Road began taking evacuees. Other shelters are scheduled to begin taking evacuees on Sunday and Monday. Westside High School began taking in special needs medical evacuees on Friday. Per the Richmond County Board of Education, media were not permitted to visit any school shelter sites.
Although it was the first and primary shelter open in the Augusta area, Trinity on the Hill was not just limited to its church members for volunteers. Crim reported assistance from all over the Augusta area.
“This is a way to bring the community together and it’s more than just about one church. It’s about everybody working together to reach those in need,” Crim said.
The experience at Trinity on the Hill left an impact on Wrice – he plans to find a Red Cross to get involved with when he returns to Brunswick.