Love thy neighbor: Steady stream of teams from S.C., beyond pitch in with flood relief

By Jessica Brodie

South Carolina continues to get some much-needed flood recovery help this month from United Methodists across the nation.

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and similar ministries are sending teams to help countless families in this state, many of whom are still displaced or living in desperate conditions after the October 2015 floods. Some of the teams are from South Carolina, while others hail from elsewhere in the United States.

“We’re pretty steady in terms of volunteers,” said Ward Smith, South Carolina Conference recovery manager, noting there are at least a couple of teams in each area most weeks. “We’ve been so fortunate with the teams, in regards to their skills and putting them on these job sites and how well they’ve adapted to doing the work, by bringing the tools and the skills that we need. We’re pretty thankful for that.”

Recent teams have helped in the Midlands, Conway, Summerville and the Manning/Summerton area, Smith said, and the conference flood recovery team is still actively calling for help in what is expected to be a years-long recovery period.

One recent team, an eight-person UMVIM team out of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Yorktown, Virginia, spent a week in April in the Dentsville area of Columbia repairing a single-family home in a small housing development. This is their second time here since the flood; they helped in Manning in February. Team leader Ron Dorenbush said the floors in the home were badly damaged, plus the structure had drainage issues. The team tore out the old floor, cleaned up the tile and, as of press time, were hard at work reinstalling tile throughout the 1,300-square-foot house. The family has been living in the home throughout the construction process, Dorenbush said.

“It’s a blessing,” Dorenbush said. “The people are so wonderful. We think we’re coming down here to bless them, but it’s just the opposite. People who have been displaced from their homes—you can’t understand it ‘til it happens to you. They will do anything to not distract us or our work, and they are so gushing with thanks. They walked down and saw the partial floor, and it looks rugged to us, but (the mother) said, ‘Oh, it looks so beautiful!’ It brings tears to the eyes.”

Dorenbush said he is grateful he can help more frequently now that he is retired. He said UMVIM work like this reminds him of his upbringing on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota.

“Minnesota has more tornados than any other state, and when a farmer loses a house, the community stops what they’re doing, even in the middle of harvest, loads all their tools and hooks up horses and tractors, and whole families go over and help until they’re back up to speed,” Dorenbush said. “It’s like one big picnic for a couple days, and then everybody goes back on.”

It’s much the same when he and others on UMVIM teams pitch in to help in South Carolina and elsewhere after a disaster, he said.

Another recent team, led by Erling Salvesen from Doyleston UMC in Doyleston, Pennsylvania, spent two weeks in April in the Blythewood area working on two mobile homes that had both flood and rain damage. The teams are part of Discovery Service Projects, a UMC- and UMVIM-affiliated group that does both domestic and international relief. A dozen people one week and then a dozen the next put a roof on one home and sealed a roof on another, plus did interior work such as new walls and ceiling and a kitchen re-do.

“When you’re dealing with really old homes that are in bad shape, the more you dig into them, the bigger the issues become,” Salvesen said. “One gentleman whose home we’re working on has recently become handicapped, so we had to repair the ramp going into the house. He lost his leg back in January, and he’s struggling with that situation and not able to do a lot. We’re trying to get him set up so he’s in a better place to live his life in his trailer there.”

Salvesen said the team went “above and beyond” for the man, purchasing a new stove for him, doing additional repairs and bringing in furniture because the old furniture was moldy and in poor condition.

A retired New York City firefighter and former member of the military, Salvesen said doing disaster relief in South Carolina and elsewhere fills a void in his life, and he is blessed to have the opportunity to do it.

“We all, especially those of us who are very fortunate, need to give back and love our fellow man,” Salvesen said. “It’s something we need to do. In spite of the fact that I get a lot out of it personally, it’s about trying to make a difference in people’s lives who are less fortunate. Anyone who saw the conditions (that older man) was living in a week ago when we got there would have to be moved to change that, and I can speak like that for anybody on the team. It’s just about trying to improve the life of our fellow human beings.”

Volunteers are needed for weeklong disaster relief at sites in the Midlands, Lowcountry and Florence/Myrtle Beach regions. To learn more or sign up, contact Chelsey Faircloth at [email protected] or 803-786-9486, ext. 257.

To make a donation to the flood relief effort or learn more about what the South Carolina Conference is doing to help, visit

The conference is seeking two construction supervisors, as well. Contact Smith at [email protected].

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