This article is contributed by Derek Macleod, Director of the New Hanover Disaster Coalition.
What is this and do we even need it? I heard those questions a lot in the early days post Hurricane Florence. Faith leaders, non profits and government agencies were all mobilizing, often scrambling, to respond to the challenges that the historic Florence rained upon New Hanover County in 2018. What was missing was a mechanism that centralized information and efforts to help us all respond efficiently without the most vulnerable falling through the cracks. Out of that need, our long term recovery group (LTRG), New Hanover Disaster Coalition, was born then baptized by fire. We didn’t invent anything new, LTRGs are found in counties all across the country. New Hanover County just didn’t have one. We weren’t sure we needed one. Don’t we have several hundred organizations all working to respond to our residents? Do we really need more meetings, acronyms, boards, funding requests and banners? Probably not. So it’s a good thing that is not our Coalition’s purpose.
New Hanover Disaster Coalition is not just another 501(3)(c). Rather, we are the hub for 501(3)(c)s to network, share and become greater than the sum of their parts. Our Coalition is the Red Cross, New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington. We are dozens of faith communities, the United Way of the Cape Fear Area (UWCFA), the NAACP, the Harrelson Center, WARM, Habitat for Humanity and volunteer residents of the county. And the list continues. Our last meeting represented 50 organizations in one afternoon. The Coalition doesn’t compete for one another’s dollars or volunteers- we ARE our partners. We celebrate the Catholic Charities truck pulling up with a mattress and the Good Shepherd Center delivering meals. The Coalition is about working together not against. We are better together. Of course, we have structure and a board. The UWCFA is our fiscal agent to ensure transparency, accountability and charitable tax receipts. But, our office is in the halls and hearts of our partners. Our volunteers work under a banner of names, agencies and colorful t-shirts, but they coordinate and connect in disasters for one purpose: to help our beloved county residents prepare for disasters and then to assist in recovery after the news moves on and the band goes home. We pool resources to help families ineligible for assistance elsewhere or forgotten in the disaster response rush. We do a lot of things but a 501(3)(c) we ain’t.
So, when the news emerged of the scope of problems facing families in the Wilmington Housing Authority dealing with mold issues and bottlenecked in hotels or doubling up with families, our coalition was quick to respond to NHC’s request that we work alongside WHA to help get families safe and home. We have begun mobilizing by assisting those families who have lost so much to mold move back in with new furniture, beds, and supplies. For those waiting, we are coordinating plans to meet social, educational, and vocational needs. It is early in the process, but there is yet much to report.
We respond to disasters. We exist because of partners. We are better together.
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