“Wow,” was Chris Powell’s reaction when he shut the door on the 53-foot tractor trailer Friday afternoon.
What started as a conversation with the mom of a Cyclones baseball player, Tara Wilson, and Chester wrestling coach Joe Conlan, turned into a post on the Chester Baseball program’s Facebook page that, through 107 shares, spidered out into the Internet over five days, manifesting into hundreds of donations. The trailer emptied that night in Lugoff contained almost 9900 bottles of water, 452 bags and boxes of clothing, and three pallets stacked with household goods.
“It was just phenomenal, the outpouring of support from this community,” said Powell. “I was blown away.”
Powell had no immediate connection to anyone affected by the disaster, just the pressing urge to help. It runs in his family. Powell’s uncle was a missionary to many foreign countries and both his uncle and his father were active members of Gideons International, a Christian missionary group.
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“From a young age, I’ve always seen giving back to other people,” said Powell. “My parents go to Haiti two or three times a year, at least twice a year, on medical mission trips to help people out over there. So when this happened in Columbia, I felt if we can just get something down there to these victims of the flooding, then maybe it will help out a little bit.
Find an interactive map of South Carolina’s most flooded areas here.
“It’s not gonna replace everything they lost, it’s not gonna replace the sentimental things they lost. But if we are in a position to help other people, then we should do it.”
Doing something proved easier than the organizers first thought.
The supplies, especially cases of bottled water, began showing up Monday. By Wednesday, they filled Powell’s classroom to the point of nearly squeezing out students. Powell marveled as the wall in the back corner of his room disappeared from view.
“It just ballooned from there. Kids brought stuff in, the community brought stuff in, it just poured in. A lot more than I thought,” said Chester principal Marty Tiller.
The organizers of the collection were unsure how to transport everything to Columbia. Stress increased as the wall of bottled water grew.
“My mom and dad have always told me that when it comes to mission work, God’s gonna provide a way,” said Powell. “And he did.”
Fate or a higher power intervened when Wilson bumped into DeeDee Hinton at the Dollar Tree. Hinton’s husband Earl is a truck driver.
“Once I spoke with him, he was very willing,” Hinton said. “We were all just kind of amazed with how much the kids were able to collect in just a matter of days. I think we thought the community would have just a little bit, you know a pick-up truck load.”
Before gathering and sending donations, visit SCEMD.org for an updated list of what’s needed to help flood victims in South Carolina.
Chester was spared from the weather oddity that unleashed months-worth of rain on parts of South Carolina within a couple of days.
South Carolina National Guard head Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston put the flooding and subsequent devastation on par with Hurricane Hugo’s impact in 1989. Columbia’s boil water advisory was just lifted Wednesday afternoon, nearly two weeks since Hurricane Joaquin and an active storm front combined to douse the state. Official damage estimates are still being figured, and many roads, bridges and dams remain buckled by the unstoppable floodwaters.
This was an opportunity for Chester High School and the community to not only help, but also teach some indirect lessons.
“It’s so good for the kids to see they’re supposed to give back too,” said Tiller. “It’s a learning experience for them. When someone’s in need and there’s something you can do, then you need to do it.”
With Powell’s classroom loaded to the brim, Earl Hinton’s truck showed up Thursday night and it began to fill up quickly. Organizers enlisted students on Friday morning and they formed a human chain from Powell’s room to the trailer, handing bags, boxes and water from one person to the next.
“We always see things in the news about the bad that young people do,” said Powell. “So it’s great to see all these young people across the state, across the southeast, all pitching in and showing that ‘hey, we care.’”
Chester was one of many schools that pitched in last week as the Midlands and Lowcountry began to dry out, clean up and rebuild. Whether it was students and high school athletes removing flood-ruined items from destroyed homes, or gathering donations, schools are the hubs of South Carolina’s communities, and the flooding emergency only underscored that.
“It’s really showing that this is who we are,” said Powell.
“It just bridged everybody together, from all walks of life and backgrounds,” said DeeDee Hinton.
Probably won’t be taking another 53-foot long tractor trailer, but if we can continue to give something each week for a few months, then hopefully that will help out.
Chris Powell, talking about whether the Chester community will gather more supplies in the coming weeks
Steve Stilwell, a volunteer from North Carolina, is helping manage the 82,000-square foot warehouse in Lugoff that received the trailer from Chester. It’s not the biggest, nor the smallest donation that arrived in the last two weeks. Loads have come in from all over the state, region and country.
Chester’s collection came from a county that had a median household income of just over $33,000, according to the last U.S. Census data. It was a timely reminder about the importance of community, and how schools can be a gathering place in times of need, regardless of the community’s location, size, or affluence.
“A lot of people gave what they could,” said Powell. “It showed the true character and a true testament to the people that are living here in Chester. I’m just completely humbled and thankful that they supported this mission work and that we were able to help these people.”
Other local schools’ contributions
▪ Clover gave Gatorade and water
▪ Rock Hill took a load of water down to Columbia this week
▪ Lewisville sent 450 cases of bottled water to A.C. Flora High School, an emergency shelter in Columbia. Great Falls High School also sent water down to Flora.