On Saturday, Feb. 22, several students from across campus volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse and helped individuals impacted by flooding on the Pearl River in Jackson and Ridgeland.
According to the National Weather Service, The Pearl River rose to its third highest recorded level on Monday, Feb. 17, cresting at 36.67 feet, eight feet above flood stage. The flooding occurred over the course of that weekend, and many were ordered to evacuate their homes in and around the metro Jackson area. Several roads and streets sat under inches of water as the murky brown tide swept down river from the Ross Barnett Reservoir, where opened floodgates relieved pressure from days of heavy rain.
Shem McConnell, a junior, noticed social media buzzing with tweets and retweets, posts and pictures of the flooding, and decided to act. “There’s so much we can do instead of just tweeting about something,” he said. A call to the sheriff’s office in Jackson Friday morning led McConnell to Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization that coordinates disaster relief efforts, which just arrived and needed volunteers for Saturday.
With participation confirmed, McConnell then announced the service opportunity on social media. He hoped less than a day’s notice would not prevent a good turnout, the opportunity for service to the community would compete with Mardi Gras revelries in New Orleans and Mobile. He would have to wait until the appointed meeting time, 6:50 a.m., in front of Nelson Hall.
Twenty-two students, myself included, showed up to serve in the early daylight outside Nelson Hall.
The base of operations for Samaritan’s Purse was Colonial Heights Baptist Church in Ridgeland. The day began there with an orientation and explanation of how the MC group would serve for the rest of the day. “The most important thing we’re gonna do today is show these people we love them,” said Program Director Leroy Wentz. “If we get some work done that’s okay too, but our main purpose is to show we care and that God cares.”
The group, which was split in two, then proceeded into a trailer community in the shadow of the Reservoir dam in Ridgeland. One group, of which McConnell was a part, crawled under trailers to remove wet and rotten insulation from three trailers and prevent mold from eating away the floor above. The other group, of which I was a part, raked and improved the yard of an elderly lady named Kathy.
Kathy also had a shed that held her mementos and summer wardrobe. This simple plywood edifice was flooded and had to be emptied to dry. Her pair of schnauzers yapped at us as we worked, but her gratitude was louder than their barks.
We left around noon for the next house in a north Jackson neighborhood. Salway, the lady who lived there, said she’s experienced the Pearl River’s three biggest floods since moving in 1974. Her house took seven feet of water in the Easter flood of 1979, three and a half feet of water in 1983, and about one and a half feet of water in this flood. And though she released her flood insurance two years ago, she is not worried or afraid.
At this house our work was more intense. We removed floorboards and exposed some walls for drying and rebuilding. I wielded a sledge hammer, shattering bathroom tiles and removing shower panels. “I’m just grateful to all of you,” she said with a smile.
The volunteers were just as glad as the people they served. “It was such a blessing to have spent my Saturday serving the community with all of them,” said Andrea Lindsay, a freshman. “It was a great opportunity to be able to serve some of those impacted by the flooding,” said freshman Seth Albritton, “but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
McConnell revealed that this group of 22 students was the first volunteer group for Samaritan’s Purse “on the ground” in Jackson. Fifty-four volunteers arrived on Sunday, Feb. 23, with plans to stay for the rest of the week.
“It was really cool to see 22 students come and change their plans less than 24 hours in advance with no incentive other than showing Christ’s love,” said McConnell.