Tropical Storm Fred ripped through the southeast on Aug. 17 leaving much of Western North Carolina, Haywood County in particular, in shambles. As a result, many people found themselves homeless as the storms swamped houses and buildings.
In response to the damages caused by Fred’s floods, the UNC Asheville athletic department plans to coordinate an effort to collect materials for Helping Haywood and support the community.
“It’s one thing to work on helping people overseas or even other U.S. citizens working on relief efforts from flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires, but these people are our neighbors. They are a part of our community,” said Ian Quinn, assistant women’s swim and dive coach at UNCA. “I can’t not do something to help them. Once you know about your neighbor’s suffering, doing nothing is a choice.”
Haywood County’s city of Canton received the brunt of the storm as record-setting floods along the Pigeon River swamped roads and damaged infrastructure, including a retaining wall on Highway 19/23 which completely collapsed.
The City of Asheville estimates the total damages from Fred exceed $18.7 million.
Such damages and losses called for Governor Roy Cooper to place Western North Carolina under a state of emergency and requested a major disaster declaration to help provide assistance for communities like Canton.
A federal-funded disaster declaration would allow the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to organize disaster relief efforts in Haywood County. President Biden approved Cooper’s declaration request on Sept. 8.
The City of Asheville said the declaration will include reimbursement for debris removal and search and rescue operations, along with providing individual assistance for those in Buncombe, Haywood and Transylvania counties.
To further these counties’ recovery and rebuilding efforts, the athletic department and their athletes hope to do as much as they can to give back to the areas and towns around them.
“The student-athletes want to do whatever they can, whether that is big or small, to help ease the burden of these families who have lost so much,” said Erin Spence, head of compliance at UNCA.
The student-athlete advisory committee, SAAC for short, plans to run a donation drive to help those affected by the storm. Senior soccer player and president of SAAC Courtney O’Malley said SAAC and other faculty members are working to partner with Helping Haywood for a flood support donation drive.
Helping Haywood is a nonprofit organization founded on the mission to aid anyone in need after the detrimental effects of Tropical Storm Fred. The organization began in Faith Community Church, a local church in Canton.
In addition to needing supplies, the communities of Haywood County also need help putting their neighborhoods back together. The athletic department, in hopes of restoring enough of their towns so these communities can make it through the winter safely, intends to also provide physical help.
“I am currently in contact with Helping Haywood to see in what ways our swim and dive team can volunteer our time,” Quinn said. “Hopefully, we can get the ball rolling in a week or two and can be a part of rebuilding those communities.”
Additional support to help the affected communities and those who lost job-related items come through monetary donations.
“Because community members lost items specific to their jobs, there is also a need for gift cards to help those men and women replace those items as well,” Spence said.
Spence and O’Malley both mentioned gift cards and monetary donations can be dropped off in the Academic Success Center and given to Anne Marie Roberts, associate director of advising at UNCA.
“The SGA and Demon are working on ways to get the rest of the student body involved, but in particular I know of some staff and faculty who are helping lead in these relief efforts,” Quinn said.
He also said there were quite a few members of the Bulldog community who lost their homes and belongings due to Fred, so such an initiative is important and personal for a lot of people.
If anyone would like to help out or provide donations, there will be donation boxes available in Highsmith Student Union, Ramsey Library and in the Sherrill Center for campus and community members to bring requested donations. The drive will run through October 1.