Working Together to Help Hurricane Victims

The day after Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina’s eastern coast in 2018, it was beautiful and sunny. The community thought they had escaped relatively unscathed. “Everybody thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to be fine,’” says Todd Kay, the national account representative at Data Imaging, a South Carolina print and promotional products company. But then, catastrophe struck—the region’s reservoirs, dams, and levees breached, and water levels rose to more than 20 feet above flood stage. The devastation was tragic: 28 people were killed, dozens injured, and many more were left without homes to return to.

“The houses were completely falling apart during the flood,” says Todd. “People were literally forced into the water and had to swim around to find something stronger to protect themselves.”

When a longtime client of Todd’s reached out with news and a firsthand account of the destruction, Todd knew he wanted to help. Todd’s contact, Ron Pringle, former director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Eastern North Carolina, told him the region was in desperate need. “So many people lost everything, and the food bank was one of the few places that not only had food, but had food that was dry,” says Todd. “I thought this was the biggest time to reach out to some of my suppliers and see what kind of assistance I could get.”

Protecting resources for those in need

One of the food bank’s most immediate needs was a unique one. There were people coming and going from the food bank all the time, but none of the food bank volunteers were identifiable—so it was hard to tell who was authorized to move food. “People were coming in through the back and walking around like volunteers,” Todd says. “But they were taking things for themselves and leaving, and nobody knew where it was going.” 

In a period when food is scarce, those resources had to be protected. When Ron started to notice large amounts of food and supplies missing from the bank warehouse, he knew he needed a solution that would make a big impact quickly. Through SanMar’s Customer Merchandise Donation Fund, Todd was able to print and donate 600 volunteer T-shirts to help the food bank stay organized and keep track of volunteers. “SanMar jumped right on it, and we had shirts right away,” says Todd. “It was fantastic.”

Donating kindness and understanding

But the shirts were just the beginning for Todd, who felt compelled to continue to support the efforts of the food bank. “The first thing that happened was they got an awful lot of food, but they couldn’t distribute it [due to the flooding],” says Todd. “Food was spoiling at the bank while people were starving to death stranded a half-mile away.” Todd was shaken when he realized what was happening; he couldn’t stand by and let it continue, so he communicated his concerns and received help from one of his customers—they donated a few freezers to the bank, allowing them to store goods offsite and more easily distribute them to those who needed it most.

Todd went on to identify more suppliers who were willing to donate goods to the food bank, including labels for food donated from a facility in Charleston. It was a journey of making connections—identifying who had what, and what they could offer. He says it’s that first step he took—working with SanMar to donate T-shirts for the volunteers—that inspired him to get other suppliers on board to continue supporting those in need. 

“When you lose everything and floodwaters shut everything down a hundred miles in every direction, support is needed for months afterward,” says Todd. “Anytime I asked for something, someone was happy to help. They could have said no, but they were willing to help. That kindness, that understanding—for me, it’s built tighter relationships with my suppliers.”

It’s relationships like those that have brought together people up and down the Carolina Coast to heal in the aftermath of a devastating storm. Just people working together—and reaching out with a hand offered to others who are in need.

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