Twins Earl Palmer and Pearl Brooks have had a birthday tradition.
“I have six daughters, and over these last eight years, at least three of them have taken us to a nice Augusta restaurant to celebrate Valentine’s Day and our birthday,” Brooks said. “It’s one of my favorite days of the year.”
When power outages forced Brooks and Palmer into the Richmond County disaster shelter on Mike Padgett Highway, however, Brooks accepted that their 70th would be different.
“I knew it was going to be a gloomy birthday,” she said. “A very, very gloomy one. Five of my six daughters live out of state, so I told them not to come. We had to postpone our dinner until next Friday.”
There was something the twins weren’t anticipating, though.
On hearing the news of the twins’ 70th birthdays, Jennifer Pennington, the executive director of Augusta’s American Red Cross, delivered a surprise.
“I turned around and saw people entering the room with a birthday cake,” Brooks said of the 2 p.m. celebration. “I couldn’t believe it. Then everyone came to my table and started singing Happy Birthday. It turned my whole day around. It really made me feel special.”
Pennington said it was worth it.
“After I left the shelter, I was thinking about Earl and Pearl and their great spirit, even though things are tough right now,” she said. “They were beaming when they first saw the cake. There’s no question it felt good to all of us, residents and volunteers, that we could bring them some joy on such a special day.”
According to Brooks, her twin brother was in charge of blowing out the candles, while she made three wishes.
“My first two were for health and strength,” she said. “And finally, I wished for Augusta’s power to come back.”
As for the shelter itself, Brooks and Palmer were two of 87 guests who remained Friday morning.
American Red Cross volunteer Marty Jones said he expects the number of overnight residents to remain high.
“At most shelters, usually the first night is the busiest,” said Jones, who has volunteered for the American Red Cross since Hurricane Katrina. “But I don’t see that being the case in Richmond County. I wouldn’t be surprised if our numbers stay the same, or even grow, throughout the next couple of days.”
The Red Cross provided 80 cots for the 87 people who stayed Thursday, and 100 additional beds were delivered Friday afternoon.
“In 3 1/2 years as a Red Cross volunteer, I’ve helped oversee shelters in Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Virginia, New York and New Jersey,” said Jones’ wife, Cindy. “But this one in Richmond County is the most efficient and well-staffed site I’ve ever worked with. We’ve had at least two security officers here at all times and the DFCS workers have been incredible.”
The Richmond County disaster shelter is at 2920 Mike Padgett Highway and allows overnight guests to bring one bag with personal items. No pets, alcohol or weapons are permitted.