I am not a professional. I do what I can do in the best way that I know how. I work to the best of my gifts and abilities. I encourage you to do the same.
Eastern NC dodged a bullet last weekend when hurricane Joaquin approached from the East and converged with another front from the West. Unfortunately, our friends in SC didn’t fare as well. My Twitter feed began to blow up on Sunday morning with a bustle of activity from a couple of F3 groups that I follow in SC. Sunday afternoon after church, I realized just how bad things were and that supplies were going to be needed. I had a feeling in my gutt that I needed to help, but wasn’t sure what I could contribute or how. After an hour or so, I remembered that I had recently cleaned out my dresser and had a lot of new jeans that I planned to contribute to a yard sale. They no longer fit due to the weight I’d loss since joining F3. I decided that would be a great way to contribute to the families in SC who had lost or were in the process of losing everything they had due to rising waters. So, that afternoon I Tweeted the following to F3ENC “Our friends in SC have been hit hard. Many requests for clothes. I’m challenging U to donate when you post. I’ll organize pickup #3rdF”
There. It was done. My good deed for the day (or the week). I’d collect a few clothes and throw them in a box and UPS them down to Columbia. That was my plan. At least, that was my plan as I knew it at that time.
The following day I decided to create an Event on Facebook that I called the Clothing Roundup for SC. I’d never created an event on FB before, but figured I’d give it a shot and invite my local FB friends. Throughout the day, people began signing up for the event, as well as texting and emailing me. By the next day, Gazelle’s friend posted that she’d setup a drop-off location in Swansboro, about 90 miles to our East. Within a short period of time, a friend of mine agreed to establish a drop-off location in Smithfield, about 90 miles to our West. This thing was growing, and FAST! My plan of shipping a box or two via UPS was no longer viable. At this point, I knew this was something much bigger than I had initially anticipated. The truth of the matter is that many people wanted to help, but didn’t know how to help. This Event provided the how. Now it became my issue to determine how I was going to get all of this stuff to SC and where it needed to be delivered.
Several things were happening in parallel at this point. Approximately 40 people had responded that they were going to contribute. About this time, a Tweet came out from SC that they no longer needed clothing but instead need a whole host of items and they provided a detailed list. At this point, the collection effort shifted to cleaning supplies, dry goods, bleach, sanitizer, detergent, baby wipes and baby diapers. Baby Diapers! I hadn’t even considered that until this point. I work for Domtar Personal Care and we have two manufacturing plants that make baby diapers. I emailed our Director of Supply Chain Management and our VP of Operations asking if the company would be willing to donate baby diapers. Within hours I had a response that the company would donate 4 pallets.
Another challenge was maintaining communication with someone in Columbia (I didn’t know anyone there) who could provide information about where and when deliveries could be made. This became very challenging and my Tweets were being overlooked just due to sheer volume of traffic to the groups I’d been in contact with. About this time, @ChrisPatrick95 (F3SOG) “followed” me on Twitter. I contacted him explaining that we were going to have a large donation and need help coordinating on their end. He quickly put me in touch with the Nantan of Lexington, SC @F3KenDoll, who quickly confirmed they’d take all clothing and any supplies we could provide. He told me that churches and schools were filling up with supplies and turning people away, but F3 guys were taking things as needed and distributing as needed. Bring what you have, he told me. We’ll find a place. When I told him about the baby diapers, he was beyond words. This was big for those in the community.
With the concern about where to drop off, I refocused efforts on the collection and decided to go all in. I encouraged more and more people to contribute….and did they ever respond! I setup my garage as a collection point and a few donations came in during the week, with a majority of them coming in Friday before the 6 pm deadline. On Thursday I was notified that Domtar wasn’t going to contribute the 4 pallets of diapers that they had originally planned, but instead had prepared 7 pallets of diapers for shipment!
The leadership for F3ENC had previously scheduled a meeting for Friday night at a local restaurant, but earlier in the week we changed the venue to my house so the group could help load a trailer that @F3Shrimp offered up to haul the load in. The PAX started rolling in shortly before 6 and were excited about the size of the “pile” in my garage. When Shrimp arrived a short time later, everyone (including YHC) began sizing up the trailer and the load and questioning whether or not this was going to work.
We ate a meal, conducted some business and quickly went to work packing. We loaded the back of the pickup truck with bottled water, bleach and cleaning supplies. We loaded the trailer with clothing, cleaning supplies, canned goods, etc.. Baby diapers, paper towels and toilet paper went in the back seat of the truck. In less than an hour we were loaded. The truck was squatting low. We had one heavy load. We circled up, arm in arm and Mr. Belding blessed the efforts, the load, and the trip, and prayed for the victims in SC. Tonka and I set a departure time of 0500 and everyone was headed out.
Everyone, that is, but The Closed Hand and Early Bird. You see, The Closed Hand has one of those split-ring type keyrings and he lost his truck key somewhere. So, we wandered around my yard with flashlights, searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. After 10 or 15 minutes, The Closed Hand made the call that no man ever wants to make. You know, the one to the M where you have to politely ask her for the favor to come pick you up at 9pm because you’ve lost your key on a 1 acre grass lot in the dark. Before she arrived, The Closed Hand found the key in the back of his truck. He apparently set it there when he put his chairs in back. He was very grateful for the help and quickly departed. I’m sure he promptly made the second call that no man ever wants to make. You know, the one where your M is already torqued that she has to come pick you up at 9pm and she’s probably almost to your location and you tell her that while it’s greatly appreciated, her service is no longer needed. No word yet on how all of that panned out for The Closed Hand, but I digress.
At 0500 on Saturday, Tonka and I pulled out for SC. We could definitely feel the magnitude of the load we had, but we kept it between the lines and made good time. Our drop-off location had changed from earlier in the week, and we rolled into Dent Middle School around 0900. After we introduced ourselves, we were told they couldn’t accept the clothing but they would accept everything else we had. We unloaded everything but the clothing. Tonka learned that schools need bottled water for students because they are under a boil order, so they can’t drink water from the fountains. The fact that we had been redirected to this school when we had so much water was a blessing for them. While they had pallets of water staged around the room, they will burn through it quickly once school is back in session. Prior to leaving they asked us to write our names and contact address and number down. At the top I wrote “F3”, followed by “T-Bone” and “Tonka” and provided them with my address and phone. This effort wasn’t about Tom and Ryan, and, it wasn’t just about F3ENC. We represent F3 and that’s all they needed to know. I asked for a photo and they asked us to stand in the middle, but we refused. This wasn’t about us, it was about them. We are 3rd.
We then headed to the USC Alumni Center to drop of the clothing (thanks again to KenDoll for finding this location for us). When we arrived at USC Alumni Center, there was a group of people sorting clothing by age and gender from a pile in the middle of garage-type area. The first girl we talked to was turning us away because she said they couldn’t take anymore. We were quickly approached by a more authoritative woman who asked what we had. I told her we were with F3 and dropping off clothing and she told us to add to the pile in the middle of the room. After about 10 minutes of YHC trying to back the trailer and not rip the side off a new Suburban on one side and an Explorer on the other side, we began unloading. As the pile shrank in the trailer and grew in the garage, we heard some #mumblechatter. It wasn’t ungrateful #mumblechatter. It was the kind that you hear when you start at the top of a ladder with 20 reps of step-ups and dips and start climbing down by 5’s and when you reach 10 reps, you start climbing back up when some PAX hoped you were stopping at 5 reps (Mr. Belding, you know what I’m talking about!). It was THAT kind of #mumblechatter….the kind when you think you’re almost done and then someone switches things up on you. They definitely had their work cut out for them.
With that, we hopped back in the truck and headed home. The total trip was 575 miles and took 10.5 hours. I estimate we dropped off about 150 gallons of water, 35 gallons of bleach and too many bags of clothing to count. Tonka and I had a great 2nd and 3rd F experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. He learned some things about estate planning, carbon credits and cowboy boots and I learned some things about compliance, FAR and the Young Professionals Group. While that may sound boring to you, the inside of the truck was Vegas and we had some genuine, dig deep conversations. It was 2nd F at its best!
The story could easily end there, and from your external perspective it would be complete: we successfully completed our mission. But from YHC’s perspective, there’s more to the story. I dare say it’s the most important part of the story.
During the middle of the week I told Tonka that if I had known how big the scope of this effort was going to be from the very beginning, I probably wouldn’t have sent the initial Tweet challenging the PAX to contribute. Not because I’m scared of hard work, or the amount of effort that this required, but because my mind is too small and my vision too narrow to have been able to see the complete picture and understand how things would fall into place. I didn’t know anyone in Columbia, SC to contact. I didn’t know where to drop of supplies and clothing. I didn’t know how clothing was going to get from Swansboro to Greenville on a Friday afternoon. If I had known all of the things needed to be arranged and coordinated I wouldn’t have taken the first step. That’s how I’m wired. My analytical mind tells me that before I take a step I need to make sure the next step is visible. I can only see one step ahead, I can’t see the winding staircase. But that’s OK. God put others in my path that I needed to help get the job done. And in the same way that he put them in my path, he put me in their path. They wanted to help but didn’t know how. I became that conduit. God was at work behind the scenes. This was God’s work, not mine. The most important part of this entire story is that sometimes (many times) we have to step out blindly on faith, not knowing what the end result will be. If I wouldn’t have taken that first step, I would have cheated myself, my F3 Brothers, my friends, my family, those people who wanted to contribute and didn’t know how, the victims of the flood, and God. That’s a long list of important people. I have been blessed in the past week in more ways that I can describe by taking that first step. I’m grateful that I didn’t know the big picture. I’m humbled that through God’s work everyone who contributed was able to make a difference in someone else’s life. That’s what we are commanded to do. We are 3rd .