I took some time off from work today to participate in volunteer efforts to clean the storm debris out of the neighborhood streets. The city’s Community Services department collected contact information for interested people to join in with dragging trees to the street.
At 10 AM, folks met at Lions Park for a safety briefing. Then after a waiver was signed, participants received a vest and pair of gloves. Then volunteers were sent to the field staging area at the Raleigh Boulevard Food Lion parking lot, where they boarded buses and vans to move into the neighborhoods. That way a bunch of cars weren’t parking along streets crowded with storm debris.
I took two other volunteers with me in my car and we drove up Millbank. Right beyond the first intersection (Brighton), we found a work crew clearing a yard of tree limbs. Feeling this was as good a place as any to pitch in, we hopped out and began to work. A construction crew was there volunteering as well, and with all the helping hands (and two chain saws), the yard was clear in no time.
We moved on to another house at the dead-end of Brighton. A huge tree obliterated the front yard and the crew was ready to remove it. I ventured into the pit-bull-filled back yard to find the owner, who told me insurance was taking care of it. So, we moved on. We were told to respect the homeowner’s wishes in all cases, so that was that.
One of the volunteers had a familiar license plate, so I mentioned it to him. It turns out it was my former neighbor Charlie Sarratt, who happens to own an aerial photography business. He’s seen this damage from the air but wanted to help with the cleanup. He and his wife Elizabeth worked hard out there, though just like me Charlie couldn’t resist breaking out the camera here and there!
With Millbank mostly done, we turned on to Brighton and worked our way down. One yard presented a tempting target, with a big pile of already-cut limbs near the house. I began to haul a few to the curb before a man working nearby with a tree service pointed out the dangling limbs in the tree right above me.
Um, no thanks! I declared that I did not want to go to the hospital today. Or tomorrow. Or for the rest of my life, for that matter!
We did find another house on Millbank that we could work. When the volunteer van dropped off more helpers, we not only made short work of the front yard but the back yard as well! A TV news crew stopped by to film the activity. But the work didn’t last long and soon there were many folks just standing around, waiting for something to do.
I knew the damage on North King Charles Road was bad, so I was anxious to get volunteers over there to help. I offered to scout the area and report back but power crews were still working to repair lines and the street was closed. I dropped a few volunteers back at the Food Lion, tried a different route to get to King Charles, and finally gave up and returned to the staging area for lunch.
Lunch was provided by Chik-Fil-A, with chicken sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches, muffins, bananas, apples, chips, and sweet tea. Volunteers kept arriving to work and took a seat while they waited for the bus to return. I finished my lunch and then offered to go out again. With a volunteer van leading the way, I was amused to find myself back at Hartford Street, where I spent all day Sunday clearing trees.
Hartford was still a mess, but that mess was far more manageable now. The giant trees that had filled the yard at the corner of Hartford and Pelham was being quickly whittled down. A volunteer with a digger was scooping up huge branches and quickly stacking them at the roadside. Others with saws cut up branches for dragging to the road. I was happy to see that the house that was once buried behind tree limbs was now visible from the road.
It was now time for me to wrap things up, so I dropped off Candy, my fellow volunteer, at the shopping center and headed for home. As I was returning some vests and gloves, Charlene Willard mentioned a woman nearby who needed a tarp and also needed some wires cut. I decided to see what I could do. Another hour or so, with a tarp brought from home, and I had their home waterproofed again.
I returned home to finish off my workday in time for Kelly and the kids to return home from Virginia. It was hard work today, but as my friend Ronneil said to me, the community is really coming together like a family. And that is a beautiful thing to see.