LUMBERTON — With gunfire once providing background noise on Saturday, more than 70 volunteers picked up trash and debris as part of Project Honoring Our Potential Every Day’s unity and community cleanup day in South Lumberton, an area hit hard in October by flooding from Hurricane Matthew.
The volunteers focused on the neighborhoods around the railroad tracks near Side and Center streets, said Adrienne Kennedy, one of the founders of HOPE. At the request of police, volunteers suspended their cleanup efforts for about a half an hour while officers searched the area for signs of the shooter. No injuries were reported, Kennedy said, and no arrest made
They heard gunfire about noon but no one left early, she said. By the time they finished work, they had filled a city dump truck with approximately 150 cubic yards of debris — garbage, yard and wood waste, and furniture that had to be separated.
The work wasn’t only about the community’s appearance.
“We were trying to think of something to bring the morale back to the community that was feeling they were not being paid attention to,” Kennedy said. “We wanted the community to feel like they could have a blessing, and we also wanted to show the government that we wanted to take our community back.”
As Doris Sanders drove her truck down Front Street, she shouted greetings of thanks to volunteers picking up trash. She could not help because of allergies, but she was grateful.
“It’s disgusting to come out every day and see so much debris. You just don’t want to be here. My thoughts are on how soon can I get away. Once I came back, I didn’t have a place to move to,” Sanders said. “With the neighborhood being cleaned up and perhaps some of these unlivable places being torn down, it might encourage me to stay. It’s a big help.”
Arine Lowery, another member of HOPE, said the cleanup was a way to help residents cope.
“As a community we are finally at the point in our grieving cycle where we can accept the devastation and the loss that has occurred and begin to problem-solve and unite, to put our community back together, to beautify, to restore our community to its original shape prior to the storm, if not better,” Lowery said.
Steven Czagas, 14, came from Indian Trial to pitch in. He is the grandson of Jimmy Harrington of Lumberton and a member of Boy Scout Troop 276 of Indian Trail.
“I just want to help the community,” he said.
Czagas helped move tree limbs, pick up debris and worked inside an empty house. Everywhere were reminders that it was once a home.
“You notice all the clothing, the books,” Czagas said.
He found a Bible and noticed that it was open to the book of Genesis Chapter 6, the story of the flood.
Tonia Hayes was among members of the Lambda Lambda Eta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta to volunteer.
“Zeta is built on the finer points of service. This is a part of our community and we wanted to come and be a part of this to try to resurrect this area,” said Hayes, whose job at the Department of Social Services brings her into contact with flooding victims every day.
“It’s about all of us coming together and helping each other,” Hayes said.
Kennedy said the idea for the cleanup day came out of a brainstorming session in January. People who are outside working together are less likely to argue and play the “blame game,” she said.
It was heartening to see the response from the neighborhood on Saturday, she said.
“People were coming out of the projects saying ‘What are you all doing? We’ll help,’” Kennedy said.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.