By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—The Rev. Mike Smith never imagined when he first heard South Carolina might get hurricane-fueled flooding Oct. 3 that not only would Columbia be underwater, but his church would serve as a Ground Zero supply site for the community.
Smith’s church, Trenholm Road United Methodist Church, is located in Forest Acres, which was one of the hardest hit areas in the Midlands.
“The predictions of the forecast indicated there was potential for flooding, so our intent was to open as a shelter if the need arose,” Smith said.
But God had other plans for the congregation.
Instead, after the church and community lost power and water and could no longer serve as a shelter, Trenholm Road UMC took on a different role in the flood’s aftermath. They became one of the area’s biggest food relief supply sites, offering whatever they could to people in need—even while their own church sustained flood damage totaling upwards of $200,000 and their facilities manager and trustees chair spent all night at the church putting out sandbags.
As floodwaters cleared, Smith said, “It became apparent that, once we were able to be back up and running in some capacity, there would be tremendous need for supplies, ranging from cleaning supplies to food to blankets and everything else.”
Smith put out a simple request for help on Facebook, and almost immediately, his cry was answered.
Within an hour, he was contacted from churches in Prosperity, Charleston, Charlotte, Myrtle Beach and beyond.
“From one direction to another, folks just everywhere just started saying, ‘We’re coming, we’re going to bring things,’” Smith said. “It really snowballed, took on a life of its own. People just wanted to help.”
And help they did. Wofford brought 1,500 cases of water and other supplies. Greenwood sent truckloads of water, as did sheriff’s departments from Spartanburg, Aiken, Greenville and around the Midlands. One day, Smith said, three different sheriff’s department were all in the parking lot at the same time. Word continued to spread, and the mayor of Columbia showed up to help at one point, and the Richland County Library System sent library vans to the church and ferried water from the church to people in need.
Several youth groups came to help—not only the Trenholm Road youth, but also the youth groups from Grace UMC, North Augusta, and Myers Park UMC, Charlotte. The youth group from Mount Hebron UMC, West Columbia, along with the church’s entire staff, Smith said, set up a prayer station in the parking lot and prayed for people.
“It was amazing,” Smith said. “There was not a district in this conference that did not send something.”
One day, a group from the Greenwood area let him know they were going to bring their grills and mobile kitchens and cook 1,000 chickens for the community.
And the Trenholm Road congregation was a part of all of this, doing whatever they could to help, every day. A group of schoolteachers at the church organized a shopping system where people in need would provide their name, number of people in their family and extent of their hardship, and then church members would shop for them among supplies in the church, bringing their “order” out to their cars in children’s wagons.
“I had no idea that by the end of the second day that the gym would be stacked from ceiling to floor, front to back with food, water, diapers, every conceivable thing, and that churches from all over would be coming down to help,” Smith said.
The best part of it all, Smith said, was that it was all orchestrated by God. They had no plan of their own beyond helping as best as they could.
“Everything just fell into place as God intended it to fall into place,” he said.
“One example occurred when the school district, after hearing about the meals our kitchen staff were preparing, asked if we could provide meals for 100 children who wouldn’t have food to eat because the schools were closed. Nobody ever said, ‘Good Lord, how are we ever going to make 100 meals?’ or ‘Where’s the money going to come from?’ Our folks just said yes.”
Smith estimates that the Trenholm Road food service team, with the help of other community volunteers, prepared and delivered upwards of 1,000 such meals.
Now, almost two months after the flood, Trenholm Road is no longer distributing supplies, but they are still helping in other ways. Even while they are in the process of getting their own flood damage fixed, they are serving as a conduit again—this time for financial donations from across the nation. To date that have received more than $12,000 from churches and individuals in places like Texas, Arkansas, Oregon, New York and all over the Carolinas, with directions to give the funds to a family in need from the flood. Trenholm Road is writing $500 checks to various people who have been affected by the flood, both within the church and at other churches. Their annual pumpkin patch earned more than $35,000, and this year’s proceeds will go to flood relief victims.
One especially good thing from the flood was a newfound relationship with the Hispanic community. Thanks to supplies they distributed to a community off Decker Blvd., Smith was even able to preach at a Hispanic church on Nov. 22.
“It’s really super how that worked out,” Smith said. “This church has wanted to be engaged with that community but never had a natural way to be in ministry with them and this opened a lot of doors.”
In all, the experience has been a humbled and beautiful example of how God works at all times—even in the midst of despair.
Being pastor of a lot of churches across the conference, I have seen a lot of churches rise to and above the level needed in any situation but I’ve never seen such a massive response across the board across the age level group with people in the church saying I’m here and I’ll stay here until we shut down. It was absolutely amazing.”
For more on how to help the South Carolina Conference’s flood relief efforts, visit www.umcsc.org/screcovery.