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Paying it forward in North Carolina

Long Beach volunteers help Hurricane Florence victims

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Long Beach residents are banding together to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina after the Category 2 storm slammed into the East Coast last week.

Florence struck the coast after moving through the mid-Atlantic Ocean as a Category 4 hurricane with strong winds and a wall of water that caused substantial flooding in both beachfront and inland communities.

For many, Florence brought back memories of Hurricane Sandy — which came ashore on Long Island in October 2012.

Waves of Hope USA, a local nonprofit organization that provides disaster relief to victims after first responders have left the scene, has teamed up with the Long Beach Fire Department, the Police Benevolent Association and other organizations to send donations to people affected by Florence.

“We’re collecting gift cards and monetary donations — no supplies this time,” said Tim Kramer, a Waves of Hope volunteer who is leading the effort, referring to last year’s massive response when hundreds of people donated supplies to be sent to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. A dozen Waves of Hope volunteers flew down to the Rockport area and sent more than $40,000 in gift cards and five truckloads of donations that were piled high at St. Mary of the Isle Parish Hall in September and hand-delivered them to people in need.

Long Beach also came together last year when Surf for All, a local nonprofit organization that works with people with disabilities and special needs, raised money for people in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria.

A handful of Waves of Hope volunteers plan to travel to North Carolina within the next few weeks to deliver the donations to people who most need assistance, Kramer said. While the volunteers are not yet sure where they will travel to, they plan to visit a community “where we’re going to have a big impact,” Kramer said.

Many local departments and businesses have joined the effort by housing collection boxes where people can drop off cash, gift cards or checks, including Brands Deli, Long Beach Bagel Cafe, West End Pizza, Bungalow West, West End Beverage, Beach Bagel, Laurel Luncheonette, St. Mary of the Isle Parish Hall, the Station for Hair and the Long Beach Police Department at the traffic window.

Donations can also be made online to a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/Hurricane-Florence-NC-WOH-USA. The goal is set at $100,000, and the effort had collected about $2,000 as of press time on Wednesday.

The volunteers also plan to collect donations at the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce Boardwalk Fair on Sept. 22 and 23 and at the Ancient Order of the Hibernians St. Brendan the Navigator Irish Day Parade and Festival on Oct. 6.

Kramer said the volunteers are also working with Operation Airdrop, a Texas-based nonprofit organization that formed after Hurricane Harvey and organizes volunteer aircraft owners and pilots to deliver supplies to disaster areas.

“Once they’re done and first responders come in and people got electricity, the debris and roads are cleared, that’s where we come in,” he said. “We’re not getting in the way of anyone’s immediate emergency effort.”

Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford and Assemblywoman Melissa Miller are involved in the relief effort and have promoted the message on social media.

“These amazing people are at it again — providing help for others who have experienced what they have,” Miller posted on her Facebook page.

“After experiencing it and knowing what it was like to have gone through this sort of crisis, and having people help us, we’re doing our part to pay it forward and help others in their time of need,” Long Beach Fire Department Chief Joe Miller said. “In conjunction with the PBA, the Kramers, Waves of Hope and the other groups, we’re going to raise money to help families that really need it down there as much as we can.”

He said the fire department intends to send two firefighters down with the Waves of Hope volunteers to hand-deliver the donations in early October.

“When people are back to their houses and going through and trying to salvage what they can, we can hopefully help them out with the gift cards — for people who don’t have much, people who maybe don’t have insurance, or don’t have the finances to cover these things, so that we can help them out,” Miller said.

Additionally, the Long Beach Community Organizations Active in Disasters, an organization that assists residents after natural disasters, has teamed up with the volunteers.

“The Long Beach COAD continues to collaborate with our partners on efforts to assist those who have been impacted by disasters, not only in our own backyard, but across the country,” said Liz Treston, chairwoman of COAD.

Treston urged people to donate gift cards from national home improvement stores, or a VISA gift card, and to refrain from sending clothing items.

“Spontaneous ‘volunteer-ism’ during a disaster impedes first responders and rescue efforts,” Treston said, “so it’s important that municipalities collaborate and communicate with their local boots on the ground.”