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South Dakota student fundraises after Hurricane Florence

October 15, 2018

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — People have seen images of the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Florence last month, leaving the Carolinas in a state of emergency.

As people from across the country watched the storm unfold, Mount Marty College (MMC) freshman Adam Yalch had to fight the desire to catch the first flight home to rejoin his family as they toughed out the storm in his hometown of Boiling Springs Lake, North Carolina.

Though he opted to heed his father’s instruction to stay in South Dakota, he struggled knowing his parents and grandparents were having a hard time seeing the storm through.

“I felt like if anything happened, that was on me because I wasn’t there, and I’d always been there for them,” Yalch told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan .

Even after the storm cleared and Yalch’s family made it out alive — albeit with damaged homes — he still wanted to do something to help.

At the suggestion of MMC Campus Ministry Director Jordan Foos, Yalch created a GoFundMe page for Matthew’s Ministry, a nonprofit organization that provides food for children at 12 schools in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

Living in a town known for its lakes close to the coast, Yalch has seen his share of hurricanes. Florence is easily the worst of them, he said.

A part of what made the experience so difficult on Yalch’s family was that they were unable to evacuate. His father, who works at a facility that cares for troubled teens, had to stay to work when most of the employees left, and Yalch’s mother stayed to care for her parents.

That Yalch’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s and his grandfather is blind made the already dire situation all the more intense, he said.

“With how bad the storm was, I can’t imagine what they went through,” he said.

The situation worsened when, during a break in the storm, his mother went back to their home to assess the damage. While there, the storm picked back up, causing more flooding and stranding his mother at the house.

Yalch had on-and-off contact with his mother during this time, but both were unable to reach the grandparents. Yalch reached out to one of his grandparents’ neighbors asking them to check on the elderly couple, as well as to let them know what happened to Yalch’s mother.

When the hurricane ended, part of the roof of both Yalch’s parents and grandparents homes had caved in and flying debris damaged the exterior of the houses. The flooding and winds also contributed to the loss of power and electricity for approximately two weeks.

Flooding to the surrounding area was made all the worse by the collapse of a local dam, which caused the destruction of several roads, including one close by Yalch’s home.

Yalch said the flooding and the damage it caused kept his father from returning home for two weeks.

Almost 50 people perished due to the hurricane, a number that isn’t lost on Yalch.

“That could’ve been my family,” he said.

He added that while not being there with his family during the storm was hard emotionally, it was an experience he needed.

“It showed that I don’t need to be there for them always,” he said.

Several years ago, Kristie Disbrow was moved to create Matthew’s Ministry after learning that many kids at her son’s elementary school had little to no food at home.

She rallied her friends to collect food to give to those children. Before she knew it, 20 children had turned to 100, and 100 extended beyond that school. Today, the nonprofit serves more than 500 children in Brunswick County.

“Twenty-seven percent of our children are labeled food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Disbrow explained to the Press & Dakotan.

Every Friday of the school year, the children in the program are sent home with a bag of food to get them through the weekend.

Even though school has been out of session since the hurricane struck, Disbrow and her volunteers have continued providing food to those registered in the program by setting up tents and having families come by to pick food up.

Disbrow anticipates that the organization’s numbers will rise following student’s return to school.

“The flooding here has been devastating,” she said. “So many people have lost their homes. That will increase the poverty problem that already existed.”

Surprisingly, the distribution center for Matthew’s Ministry sustained no damage, which Disbrow has labeled a “miracle.”

“We’re feeling blessed that we were able to continue our operations,” she said.

Yalch won’t be going back to North Carolina until Thanksgiving. Clean-up efforts will likely be ongoing at that time, but he wanted to do something sooner to help out his hometown.

When selecting an organization to give to, he knew he wanted it to be one where he knew the funds would go directly to his hometown and the surrounding communities.

Matthew’s Ministry was the first organization he thought of.

“Miss Kristie has been a big influence my whole life,” he said, adding that he and her son had gone to school together. “I know the Ministry well. I’ve donated deer meat and fish to it and helped with its food drives. I knew that with Miss Kristie in charge, the money would go to the right place.”

The online campaign is aiming to raise $3,000, which covers one week of food distribution, Disbrow said.

“If we could raise one week’s worth (of funds), it would really help,” she said.

She has been witnessing the giving spirit that arises in the wake of a tragedy firsthand.

“My family and others have been helping people get their damaged belongings out of their houses,” she said.

Yalch has also heard that his family is assisting their neighbors with cleanup, including his father going around with a chain saw and cutting down what’s left of damaged trees.

“If somebody needed help, my family was there,” he stated proudly.

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

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