Kaitlyn Hoffman – Thankful for community support

Thankful for community support for West Virginia flood drive

By Kaitlyn Hoffman

In the summer of 2016, southern West Virginia was bombarded with the worst flash flood in state history. This devastating flood hit 44 of our 55 counties and many homes and businesses were lost. Twenty-three men and women lost their lives to the flooding. Some of the hardest days for West Virginia were June 24-25.

I heard of the flooding from my father. He told me that we should do something to help. My parents and I thought that a flood drive would be the most beneficial way to help collect and gather supplies for southern West Virginia. Since my parents had no down time due to their work schedule, I oversaw setting up everything. I had to find a central location to host it, figure out what times I could go to collect, what necessities we needed, and how to advertise our donation drive.

I was extremely nervous that no one was going to show. We opened shop at the Berkeley Springs High School gymnasium on June 25. An hour or two went by and there were only three or four people there so far. I was very upset that there weren’t more people coming. My parents assured me that it would be okay and more people would arrive as soon as the work day was over. Sure enough, around 4 p.m., donations started to pile in. I was in awe of how my community had stepped up to the challenge and supported not only myself, but their state as well. My family and I decided to keep the flood drive open for three or four days to ensure that we could get the most supplies for our friends in lower West Virginia.

It was as if a switch had been set to overdrive. Not only did we have a constant flow of donations coming in, but volunteers as well. They helped me organize all that was arriving and even helped make personal hygiene kits. Within that time, with the generosity of Morgan County and many others, we had managed to fill a tractor trailer full of donated supplies.

It was mesmerizing to see how everyone came together in a time of need. So many, struggling in their own lives, made time to help others. On the day that we were transporting the donations, we welcomed everyone to join us in a prayer circle around the tractor trailer wishing it and our volunteers a safe journey. We asked the kind gentlemen who volunteered to drive the tractor trailer if we could write positive messages on the side of the trailer with washable markers. He gladly accepted and everyone got to work. In that moment, I felt everyone come together as a whole and knew that this was the most beautiful creation of not just a group of people, but a family lending their hands to ensure the help of others.

The trip down was heart-breaking. Seeing how much destruction water can create is a true eye opener. Homes destroyed, debris everywhere, and the saddened faces of those who had just lost everything are sights never to be forgotten. When we reached our destination, and started to unload the collections, many of the families were walking up to me and thanking me for my efforts. To them, I guess that I was viewed as one of the many heroes to help them. To me, I was just someone trying to do what was right. We stopped at multiple locations, dispersing the supplies and monetary donations to those who needed it. One woman, who had just lost everything, gave me the biggest and most emotional hug that I have ever received. She had been staying strong for days, but in that hug, she let herself grieve and release all her heartache. I want to thank that woman for letting me in and showing me the main reason why I created the flood drive. After the long and intense day, we all headed home.

There were an overwhelming amount of people requesting that we do another flood drive. After discussing it with my parents, we decided to continue our efforts. Morgan County showed their undying support again as we filled another tractor trailer in just a few days. This time around, we had a few businesses donate bulk items, such as dog food, cat food, water, etc. On this journey, there were only a few volunteers. My parents and I rented a U-Haul and filled it up with donations to deliver to the places that hadn’t received much aid. The first night, we stayed in a hotel. By the second night, we ended up spending the night in Clendenin, one of the worst places hit by the flooding.

I just wanted to thank everyone who supported, donated, and volunteered at the flood drive. You guys are the real heroes. I am so grateful for having shared this opportunity with my friends, family, community and state. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and see yourself as a hero who has just scored a major victory. As for me, I saw myself as lucky. I was spared from the flood waters and could help those who weren’t. I watched as an entire county shared their love and generosity. I am very lucky for having this experience. It has shown me that if you believe, you can achieve anything.