Rain on the Roofs, Pain in our Hearts
The old Milliken textile mill in Robbins doesn't cast a shadow anymore. It burned down four years ago, and the brick and twisted metal rubble lies heaped and forgotten behind a woeful chain link fence.
But if the old plant were still to cast a shadow, the heart of Moore County's poverty would lie within it.
Here, just a couple of blocks off the town's crossroads - not buried unseen out in the country - sit homes of utter despair and disrepair. The roofs leak. The windows, if not run through with cracks, are gapped and saturated with lead paint. Plank porches sag because their brick pillars are caved and crumbled. Many of these homes have children's toys, Barbie-pink bikes and trampolines in the yards.
House after house. Hemp Street. Green Street. Rockingham Street. They are typical mill homes or mobile homes. All sorts of people live in them. Retired, living on meager Social Security or disability checks. Unemployed laborers who didn't walk across a high school graduation stage. Migrant workers who found steady - but low-paying - jobs driving trucks or processing chickens. They're proud people struggling to keep going what little they have.
Help is coming. Next weekend, a small volunteer army from Habitat for Humanity of the Sandhills, Northern Moore Family Resource Center and Robbins-area churches are hosting a "blitz" to address the needs of seven homes. A few will get new roofs. One will get a fixed porch and new windows. A couple of others need wheelchair ramps.
For the last several weeks, a cadre of these volunteers has traveled back and forth, visiting the residents of these homes, assessing their needs, rounding up more volunteers and obtaining donated materials.
I traveled with a few of these folks earlier this month, on the first cold, overcast day of fall. Five of us piled into the Ford Escape of Clare Ruggles, executive director of the resource center. We visited several of the homes, talked with the residents, updated them, and offered reassurance that help would soon arrive.
As the rain blew in from the north, you could see the relief and gratitude on the faces of these folks. In the home that will get new windows, the teenage girl who lives there with her parents is so excited just to be getting a new bedroom window that won't let in the cold drafts anymore.
If only this were just a Robbins story. The need is everywhere: Jackson Ham-let, Berkley, West Southern Pines, Lost City. How is it in Moore County we even have a community known as Lost City?
Elizabeth Cox, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Sandhills, recounted her recent experience at a county-sponsored housing fair for low-income homeowners to learn about opportunities for help. Most of those seeking help were elderly, widowed. They all have this in common: nowhere to turn.
In 2001, Habitat nationally branched out from building new homes to also include a repair and rehab ministry. In communities across the country - and here in Moore County - the Habitat network set about trying to reduce the shameful stock of substandard housing. Locally, more than 50 homes were repaired. But these are hard times for nonprofit groups like Habitat, and Cox last year had to lay off the staff person who coordinated that work.
That is where people like Ruggles and Cox come in, people like Habitat volunteers Ken Rahal and Karen Hieronymous. Ken has gotten virtually all the materials for next week's Robbins blitz donated by the good-hearted folks at Locust Lumber, and it's no small load: shingles, plywood, hardware. Hieronymous is coordinating the repair ministry, all on donated time.
This is where people like Kenneth McNeill come in. He's the pastor at First Baptist Church of Robbins, and he's been rounding up his church members and talking to others to turn out for the repair blitz next weekend. Like many Baptist churches, his routinely participates in "Operation In As Much," which normally involves small odd jobs for folks in need. McNeill decided to make the effort this year about much more.
"The need of these folks - there's just no shortage of need," he said. "It's overwhelming, and we're just talking basics. Heat is pretty basic."
This is where we come in. For all the things that make this such a wonderful community to live in, it hurts that much more to see so many families suffering in silence. I'm not bleeding-heart enough to think we can fix it all merrily and move on. It will take time, strategy, resources, creativity. We each can give something in our own way to the need.
This is where we come in. Because families ought not live in dread of the next rain.
Contact John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or email@example.com.
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