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Charlotte-area residents rally to help with SC flood relief

Sharon Towers residents Mitzi Folk, front, and Frances Taylor, back, sit with a collection of items collected by seniors at Sharon Towers Assisted Living for flood relief efforts in Columbia. Folk and Taylor were two of the residents who contributed to the flood relief effort.
Sharon Towers residents Mitzi Folk, front, and Frances Taylor, back, sit with a collection of items collected by seniors at Sharon Towers Assisted Living for flood relief efforts in Columbia. Folk and Taylor were two of the residents who contributed to the flood relief effort. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

The carnage in Columbia nearly brought Frances Taylor to tears on Thursday.

Photos and video of people her age crowded in shelters, their homes destroyed, evoked memories of Hurricane Hugo, she said.

Touched by their hardships, the 84-year-old Charlottean, who lives at the Sharon Towers retirement community in South Park, reached into her wallet and bought canned soup, bottled water, paper cups and paper plates. “Some of the people you just see are destitute,” she said, sniffling and dabbing her eyes.

Charlotte-area residents, nonprofits and businesses this week have galvanized to help people affected by the unprecedented flooding in Columbia and parts of coastal South Carolina. The S.C. Emergency Management Division lists bedding, diapers, disinfectants, trash bags and nonperishable food as items in high demand.

The folks who live at Sharon Towers want to help meet those needs.

The call for donations at the facility went out just before noon Wednesday. Within 24 hours, more than 50 items – ranging from diapers, blankets and paper plates to cranberry juice, peanut butter and canned soup – were stockpiled on a table.

More is expected. The drive won’t end till Oct. 14, when a Sharon Towers staff member will take the items to a drop-off site in Columbia.

At this age, we need to concentrate on doing for others.

Mitzi Folk, Sharon Towers resident

Some residents have donated anonymously. Others, like 81-year-old Mitzi Folk, have taken to the stores themselves to buy items they feel are most needed.

“I thought it was important to get things they could use,” said Folk, who purchased bundles of baby and paper products. “We are so blessed and privileged. At this age, we need to concentrate on doing for others.”

Clothing, ‘that’s what people need’

Clayton Sanders hopes people who patronize the Davidson Street Public House in NoDa show the same generosity. Until Oct. 21, the restaurant is holding a clothing drive, dubbed “Aid for Columbia,” that’s collecting shoes, diapers, toiletries and clothing for children and adults.

“Really and truly, that’s what people need,” said Sanders, the restaurant’s executive chef who started the drive after watching news reports of the devastation in Columbia. “A lot of people lost everything.”

Sanders, a Columbia native, moved to Charlotte about five years ago. The drive partners with Sycamore Brewing, Birdsong Brewing, Salud Beer Shop, Dilworth Neighborhood Grille and The Gin Mill. Donors can leave the goods at any of the eateries and, in two weeks, Sanders will load the items into a U-Haul and drive them to a drop-off site in Columbia.

I just wanted to do what we could do, what Charlotte could for our neighbors down south.

Clayton Sanders, executive chef at Davidson Street Public House

“I just wanted to do what we could do, what Charlotte could for our neighbors down South,” he said.

Home away from home

In the wake of Columbia’s deluge, Elaine Miller and her three closest friends at the University of South Carolina have hunkered down with Miller’s family in Matthews.

They’ve spent their time walking around SouthPark mall. Driving two hours north to visit friends at Appalachian State. Taking a day trip to Carowinds. Studying for exams and finishing papers. All of it tempered by what awaits at their “second home”: Broken roads. Submerged homes. Flooded streets.

It’s really crazy to see that happen so close to you.

Elaine Miller, USC student from Matthews

“It’s really surreal, just to see places we pass every day completely vanish,” said Miller, a 19-year-old economics major. “It’s really crazy to see that happen so close to you.”

As floodwaters kept rising in Columbia, Elaine Miller joined other USC students to hand out bottled water to residents without any of their own. When the university said it was no longer safe, Miller decided to help in another way: She gave temporary shelter to her friends, Alison Saum, 20, Jasmine Ranjit, 19, and Avery Peirce, 19.

“We were kind of going stir crazy, (so) we decided to come to Charlotte,” Miller said. “My parents were very welcoming. They were like, ‘Yeah, for sure, bring them.’ 

But even when they’re miles away, they can’t shake the devastation. Their professors’ homes have flooded. They’ve seen the damage firsthand.

“I have friends who are … not sure if their houses in Columbia are still standing,” Peirce said.

Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov

Other ways to help:

▪ To donate to Sharon Towers, call the main number at 704-553-1670 and talk with a receptionist.

▪ Employees at Charlotte Radiology will launch a “Fill the Mobile” drive where they are collecting water, nonperishable food items, toiletries, blankets and gift cards for people affected by the flood in Columbia. Workers will load their pink mobile breast cancer bus with the donations at 7 a.m. Sunday and then leave for Columbia at 8 a.m. People who want to contribute can drop items at Charlotte Radiology’s resource center on 3816 Latrobe Drive between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.Friday.

▪ The Central Carolina Community Foundation has established a flood relief fund. Visit www.yourfoundation.org/community-impact/sc-flood-relief to donate.

▪ Myers Park United Methodist Church is collecting canned food (pop-tops, please), hygiene items, diapers, heavy duty gloves, baby food, heavy duty trash bags and all-purpose surgical masks.

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