Unfortunately, I have way too much experience working through national disasters. Hurricane season always coincides with United Way’s campaign preparation and kickoff. We always make it through but I have earned every gray hair in my head.
On Sept. 11, 2001, my United Way colleagues from Anderson and Oconee counties joined United Way of Pickens County in a huge joint kickoff event at Clemson University. Always the gracious host, we let the other counties speak first so Pickens County could wrap up the show.
Right in the middle of our awards ceremony, pagers started to go off and people literally RAN out of the door. We had tons of Oconee Nuclear Station volunteers and donors attending our event and the World Trade Center had just been destroyed.
It took us a while to recover from that terrible day.
Hurricane Katrina was hard too. Dozens of transient displaced victims ended up in Pickens County and it was hard for our kind and generous neighbors to distinguish the truly needy from the scammers, not to mention the mentally ill who were homeless in New Orleans and homeless in the upstate.
The expression, “flying by the seat of your pants” was apropos because honestly, who can prepare for such an event?
Our beloved South Carolina hasn’t been spared either. A few years ago, United Ways across the state joined forces when the flood waters rose in the Midlands. We even impressed ourselves at how organized and well-coordinated we had become. Since then, we have drilled and planned for the next “big one.”
Hurricane Harvey is way different. We’re more experienced and better trained. We have the national 2-1-1 system in place to match donors with those in need.
Our statewide 2-1-1 Director Richard LaPratt, who worked at 2-1-1 in Louisiana when Katrina hit New Orleans, is one of the best in the nation when it comes to disaster planning. Richard has trained all of us in South Carolina so we are “with the program” in a big way.
One thing I have learned is that communities facing disaster need funds quickly. They need a lot of money for a long, long time. The United Ways and social service agencies serving communities decimated by Harvey are victims too. Their offices are damaged and many staff have lost their own homes.
It’s unimaginable what it must be like to lose everything. Yet, they figure out a way to work because they have to … because people in their communities are depending on them.
A few days ago, the United Way Board Chairman asked me, “What are we doing to help with the hurricane relief?” Frankly, the honest answer was nothing. Our campaign kickoff is in a few weeks and we are figuring out how to meet next year’s huge goals. He directed me to set up a local fund because local people trust United Way of Pickens County because we are accountable.
Honestly, “Yay boss. Great idea!” wasn’t exactly my first reaction. Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut and listened as he explained the rationale as to why United Way of Pickens County was obligated to help. I arrived at the office, rallied the team and prayed that Mr. Chairman was right. He was so right.
It took exactly five hours until the appeal was sent to our donors and 30 minutes for us to raise $1,500 for United Way of Greater Houston.
I am so proud of our United Way team. We just turned on a dime and in the end our donors came through like they always do … because they trust us. I am truly humbled by their generosity.
It is moments like this when the strength and power of our United Way Worldwide network is truly on display. It makes me really, really proud to work for United Way of Pickens County.
If you want to contribute to our Hurricane Relief Fund, just go to our website, www.uwpickens.org. It’s easy, secure and 100 percent of the funds contributed will go to United Way of Greater Houston to help them recover from Hurricane Harvey.
Julie Capaldi is president of United Way of Pickens County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 864-850-7094, extension 101.