By Laura Sikes

When an East Carolina University (ECU) cross country team found they had an off weekend from running, they decided to go and help survivors of Hurricane Florence. They joined a college-wide effort to help Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers serve in the hard-hit New Bern, N.C. area.

Last Saturday Oct. 6, 23 team members carpooled using their own vehicles and made the 45-minute drive from their college campus in Greenville, N.C., to assist with a tear-out of a home that had taken on more than two feet of floodwater after the Neuse River overflowed its banks. After receiving an SBDR orientation along with additional training from the college, the students followed an SBDR team that had begun the tear-out the day before.


Josh Spare, 19, of East Carolina University hauls debris to the street with his fellow team members who worked Saturday, Oct. 6, on a tear-out of a flood damaged home in Bridgeton, N.C. The homeowners and their neighbors lost almost the entire contents of their homes. NAMB photo by Laura Sikes.

As the students drove to the home in the Bridgeton neighborhood, just across the Neuse River from New Bern, they saw piles of debris from flood-damaged homes lining the streets. Most of the homeowners had lost the entire contents of their homes.

“Our team didn’t realize how much damage was done,” said senior Grace Sullivan.

Homeowner Brian Cahoon said he and his wife, Amy, appreciated the volunteers’ hard work.

“There’s no way I could have done this work,” Brian said.

Within about seven hours, the students almost cleared the Cahoon’s home. They tore out sheetrock and insulation, pulled up flooring and hauled out water-soaked furniture, adding to the pile of debris along the street.

“Those college girls were scary with their crowbars,” joked Amy. “They did excellent work.”

Amy said it was hard for her to see the home where she grew up so devastated. Her father had built the home with his friends in 1957 with this being the first time it has taken on floodwater.

“I feel like I’ve lost my parents all over again,” she said.

First-time SBDR volunteer Anna Bristle—18, of Charlotte—said she was glad to help the two homeowners.

“It’s really sad to see that this is people’s reality. For us, the hurricane ended three weeks ago, but for them, it’s not over,” Bristle said.


Wearing a Tyvek suit and protective goggles, East Carolina University (ECU) freshman Anna Bristle, 18, looks out over the pile of debris that she and 22 other ECU students hauled to the street from a flood-damaged home in Bridgeton, N.C. Bristle and members of the school’s cross-country team, who were off from running a race on Saturday, chose to come and help serve with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. “The hurricane ended for us three weeks ago, but for them, it’s not over,” she said. NAMB photo by Laura Sikes.

SBDR team leader Jimmy Lawrence of North Carolina Baptists On Mission said he and SBDR volunteers are grateful for the students’ commitment to serving.

“ECU has stepped up. I think it’s wonderful that the college teams are coming,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence, who serves as New Bern’s site commander, said the work is ongoing. While more than 400 job requests have been met in the past three weeks, more requests are coming in. Mud-out and chainsaw teams are needed.

ECU has committed to sending day volunteer teams every Saturday in October and have signed up more than 500 volunteers, he said.


Members of East Carolina University’s cross-country team tore up flooring in the kitchen and every other room of a flood damaged home along the banks of the Neuse River in Bridgeton, N.C. NAMB photo by Laura Sikes.

Along with the cross-country team, other athletic teams, including the men’s baseball, basketball and soccer teams have served along with university staff.

Grace Sullivan, one of the cross-country team’s captains, and ECU Human Resources leader Danielle Morrin helped spearhead the students coming.

“I am so proud of [the students],” Morrin said.

“This is our community and they support us. So, we wanted to support them and to give back,” Sullivan said.

In response to Hurricane Florence, SBDR volunteers have served more than 1.1 million meals, provided flood-cleanup for more than 300 homes and helped clear more than 1,100 yards of storm debris.

On Thursday (Oct. 11), ECU cancelled its classes due to Tropical Storm Michael, which ravaged the Florida Panhandle, Georgia and Alabama as one of the worst hurricanes to hit the Continental United States. Michael led to casualties as far north as Virginia.

So far, SBDR volunteers have served nearly 100,000 meals and helped clear more than 140 yards in response to Hurricane Michael.

To donate and learn about opportunities to volunteer with SBDR, visit namb.net/hurricane-relief.

Laura Sikes is a freelance writer with the North American Mission Board.