At North Charleston United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Pastor Wendy Hudson-Jacoby leads the blessing for what will be the final meal inside the temporary shelter. Forced to evacuate due to flooding, many of the families inside will soon be leaving to see their homes for the first time since the storm began.
Angel Huitt and her family had only lived in their home near Filbin Creek in North Charleston for three months before rising floodwaters forced them out. Moving from Georgia for the chance at a better job for her husband, Wade Freeman, the family spent four days living in the shelter. On Tuesday, Huitt returned home not knowing what she’d find. Next to her front steps sit two children’s bicycles covered in mud up to the handlebars. Stepping out of the car and peeking through her living room window, Huitt is amazed to see everything still intact.
“Oh my God, the water is gone. I couldn’t even see my porch when I left. Can you believe that?” she says. “My home is in one piece. It’s so lovely to see. It smells like fishy water, but other than that I could care less.”
The last time Huitt and her husband were home, water was rising waist high and nearing their front door when a rescue team arrived to get the family to higher ground.
“It was Saturday, kids where in their room playing. We were sitting in the living room watching TV, and the fire department came,” says Freeman. “They called and said, ‘You need to get one pair of pants, blankets, pillows.’ All the kids got one toy a piece and we had to get out because they were going to shut our power off because the water was so high.”
Carrying their three young children — Shylan Huitt, Wade Freeman Jr., and Karlie Freeman — the two parents waded through the rising water and boarded a bus to the shelter.
Pastor Hudson-Jacoby says she received the call to mobilize the shelter just 30 minutes before flood victims began to arrive Saturday morning. Within the hour, volunteers were on scene to help out any way they could.
“At 10:45 a.m., I had church members already here and ready to go. It’s been amazing,” says the pastor. “We’ve been so blessed by our members and the community. Every need we’ve had, somebody’s been able to meet it.”
But in addition to meeting the material needs of the almost 30 flood victims who stayed in the shelter over the entire four days, volunteers and the members of the Red Cross were able to provide a sense of home for those without one. Hudson-Jacody says the church’s goal was to make everyone feel like an honored guest, whether they relied on the shelter for just a few hours or for days. And as Wade Freeman and the others displaced by the storm sit down to one last meal together, it’s clear that the pastor was successful.
“Everybody’s just been so warm and loving. I’ve never met so many people that’ve just come together,” says Freeman. “My first though when we come to a place like this is it’s going to be horrible. A lot of people don’t understand why I’m as happy as I am here. It’s because you got people who care for you so much. How can you not be happy, you know?”
As he gathers the few belongings the family was able to bring along, Freeman says he’s tried to keep as much news of the flooding from his children as possible. Confined to the shelter for days, the kids have kept busy by playing games and pitching in with chores around the church. Freeman says that now the difficult part will be getting the children to leave the shelter that has served as a playground, a school, and a home during their time of need. Saying goodbye will also be tough for Pastor Hudson-Jacoby, who has spent the past week watching as a group of complete strangers came together to help each other through the disaster that touched all their lives.
“It really hit me as we were going to say the blessing for the last meal because for the last four days, we’ve eaten three meals a day together,” she says. “It was sad for me to say that blessing knowing it was the last time this particular group was together because we became like family over these past four days. So I’m going to miss everyone, miss seeing their faces.”
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