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Tornados turn Pawleys Island students into relief workers

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

While many college students were settling in for summer break on Wednesday, Erica Elliott, a Clemson University psychology major, was behind the wheel and bound for Charlotte.

The trip to gather food donations is Elliott’s latest effort on behalf of Community2Community, the nonprofit she helped start to provide relief for victims of the tornados that recently swept through the Southeast, primarily in Alabama.

As Elliott, her roommate Lizzy Notaro – both Pawleys Island residents – and friends Elissa Bailey and Jenny DeLaere watched scenes of the devastation, they began formulating ways they could help.

Starting with a Facebook page and flyers posted around the Clemson area, their efforts soon expanded statewide and, eventually, crossed into North Carolina.

“We started brainstorming, just coming up with ideas while we were sitting on the couch,” Elliott said. “We thought it would be something that would be local to Clemson and Pawleys Island and Myrtle Beach when we started reaching out to contacts there. We had no idea it would get as big as it has.”

“You can’t really find a good way of expressing how proud you feel about what the girls have done,” said Steve Elliott, Erica’s father. “You hear all the time about people believing that the youth of today are selfish and don’t have any drive. The work the girls have done blows that theory right out of the water. They have been working night and day to make things run smoothly.”

The amount of publicity their organization has generated surprised Elliott and the other founding members. Hootie and the Blowfish guitarist Mark Bryan made a donation and several NASCAR teams will feature the organization’s logos on their cars.

To continue their involvement with NASCAR, Community2Community members will be at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on May 29.

“Being at the race is a great opportunity to continue to get the word out about what we are doing,” Elliott said. “There is so much more we can do to get [the organization’s] name out there and provide help for victims of disasters.”

Community2Community is currently completing its 501 c(3) application and hopes to expand its relief efforts into Arkansas and Mississippi – which were also devastated by the tornados – as well the recent flooded Memphis area.

Volunteers made their first trip to Alabama on May 5, bringing enough donations to fill three 22-foot Budget rental trucks. They visited Tuscaloosa – where much of the disaster relief efforts are centered – and also delivered a truckload of food, toiletries, water, linens, baby needs and other supplies to Cullman.

“We heard Cullman was running low on food and water so we decided to go up there,” Elliott said. “We met so many great people, they were amazing. The losses they have suffered are heartbreaking, but being around them, seeing their strength and unselfishness despite all they had lost, was inspirational.

“There is a lot of help being provided in Tuscaloosa, but little towns like Cullman aren’t getting much relief. Because of that our goal is to concentrate on the smaller cities.”

Elliott said the trip to Alabama changed her life.

“It was one of the toughest things emotionally that I’ve done,” she said. “I knew it was going to be hard, but I had no idea how great the damage and suffering was. There are families who have lost everything, and in some areas you are the tallest thing standing because everything else has been destroyed.

“We take so many things for granted. We expect to have air conditioning, power and running water. When you see people who don’t have any of that, it makes you realize how fortunate you are. It also motivates you to want to do everything you can to help.”

To make a donation to the Community2Community website.

The site also has a list of Waccamaw Neck businesses that are accepting donations, as well as a list of supplies and specific items that are needed.

Numbers for volunteers are provided in case personal collections are needed.

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