After a week in which politics highlighted a divided nation and state, nearly 1,000 people united in downtown Raleigh on Sunday to help Hurricane Matthew flood survivors who still have a heap of trouble on their plates.
Those who wanted to help pulled chairs up to a community table that stretched for two blocks down Fayetteville Street – from the Capitol to Martin Street – on a crisp, clear, sunny afternoon.
They had purchased $20 tickets to “The Sunday Supper,” an event born in the offices of Eckel & Vaughan, a strategic communications firm in Raleigh where worries simmered about the thousands in Eastern North Carolina who still need help. With the help of Kohn Associates, the co-organizers pulled together a diverse array of businesses, religious groups, the city of Raleigh and other municipal organizations to “Fight the Floods with a Fork.”
The result: Heaping plates of barbecue, Brunswick stew, slaw, cornbread and Lucettegrace desserts enjoyed by crowds who were ready for a different drift after the week that was.
“I think it’s been a long week for all of us,” said Jai Kumar, 28, a state employee and nonprofit worker who surveyed the scene afterward. “So to be able to help and not really think about what else is going on, that’s been really refreshing.”
Mayors from Kinston, Four Oaks and some of the other low-lying communities along the Neuse and Tar rivers were among the diners.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane had a perch from the stage set up just beyond the Capitol to look out over the 126 small tables merged into two block-long tables.
“What a sight to see,” McFarlane said.
“I think it’s healing for us as a city when we are very divided about so many things right now,” McFarlane added. “This is neighbors coming together to help our neighbors.”
I think it’s been a long week for all of us. So to be able to help and not really think about what else is going on, that’s been really refreshing.
Jai Kumar, state employee and nonprofit worker
The proceeds from the 1,000 tickets, which sold out in four days, will go to the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund for Hurricane Matthew to help defray the estimated $1.5 billion in damage in Eastern North Carolina.
More than 100,000 buildings and countless farms were damaged from the storm’s heavy rains and devastating flooding.
While the state does not track the number of homes damaged, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says more than 66,000 households have reported losses from the October storm. There may be more who did not register with the agency because they expect insurance to cover their damage.
Ann Huffman, disaster call center coordinator for the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church and a representative of the North Carolina Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, reminded the diners on Sunday that people affected by the storms will be in need for months and years to come.
Volunteers are needed to help “rip and strip” the homes of the moldy, mildewed and “dangerous morass” that stewed and simmered in the floodwaters.
Then homes need to be rebuilt while residents stay in hotels or other temporary housing. Churches in the flooded areas have been alternating among themselves to take meals to hotels where the displaced residents are staying.
The needs are many – clothing, household supplies, food, and financial and emotional support.
“Don’t be put off if you don’t have the skills to rebuild a house,” Huffman said. “Volunteering is only bound by our imagination.”
Up and down Fayetteville Street for several hours, strangers became friends.
People frustrated by a political season where civility seemed unimportant found a new calm and energy beyond the din.
“Despite all this tension our country has had over the past weeks, it’s nice for everybody to come together,” said Laura Cain, 24, a Raleigh resident who owns the pet-sitting business Passionate for Pets. “It’s nice to see everybody smiling, thankful for what we do have.”