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Nonprofits: Hurricane was baptism by fire for Salvation Army couple

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

From their message to their marriage, Salvation Army husband-and-wife team Tim and Melissa Scott believes in second chances.

They met at a Salvation Army southeastern band camp when they were 14. He was from Georgia; she was from Arkansas. Both played the cornet. They dated long distance for six years but, despite expectations, went their separate ways.

They were never very far apart. Their families knew each other before they were born in southern Georgia, and the Salvation Army is practically the family business for both of them. Tim has two sisters and brothers-in-law in the Salvation Army. Melissa’s parents were Salvation Army officers, and she has a sister and brother-in-law in the service too. “Everybody knows everybody,” he said.

Tim’s sisters put them in touch after the death of Melissa’s husband, also a Salvation Army captain. Tim explains their reunion: “God has a sense of humor.” Melissa envisions their mothers in heaven going, “Ha, ha. We told you so.”

Melissa and her first husband served the Salvation Army in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, moving every five years or so. She and Tim last served in Texas, helping out a flood-ravaged Houston. All their experience proved valuable in Hurricane Matthew. “We get to do this,” Tim said. “We don’t have to do this. This is a gift that God has allowed us to come and do. It’s a calling we answered.”

Earlier this month, the Scotts left the Salvation Army parsonage on Hagley Drive hours before the hurricane hit and moved into the office, kitchen and worship facility across Anthuan Maybank Drive from Georgetown High School. “We didn’t want to get trapped in our own neighborhood by fallen trees,” Tim said. “It was good that we were here in the hurricane when the power went out. We rolled the freezers out on the porch and re-started them with generators. Right place, right time, right thing.”

Melissa said she started cooking during the hurricane. “The canteen was rocking in the wind, and I kept burning my arm,” she said. “It was crazy, but I got the meal out that day.” Hurricane Matthew has given her a different perspective on disaster relief. “I’ve never been on this side, the front side, where my area got hit. It’s a lot different,” she said. “People had to hunker down and hold on tight. They had nowhere better to go.”

The Scotts’ mission includes Georgetown and Williamsburg counties. They were feeding 1,000 people a day after the wind and rain knocked out electricity across the area. Food came from many sources, and the Scotts shopped at Wal-Mart once it reopened. They filled six shopping carts a day. “There’s 22 loaves of bread,” Tim said, “and I go in there and take 20 of them. Everybody is looking at me sideways.”

They served from the Salvation Army front porch in Georgetown and delivered food to Sampit Park and Kingstree. On a trip home, they saw water up to the roofs of houses. As electricity was restored, people’s needs changed. They went home but then had to flee flood waters. The lights went off again. Salvation Army was asked for another 100 meals a day for residents of Williamsburg County last week. Without electricity people who rely on a well don’t even have water. And they lost all their refrigerated and frozen food. “Even with my wife and I,” Tim said, “everything in the refrigerator at home had to go. It was days without power. At least, we got to clean the refrigerator.”

People are grateful for any help after a big storm. “It’s just all very chaotic,” Tim said. People are ripping out carpet and Sheetrock, trying to prevent mold. Cars in flood waters are often a total loss. “It’s heartbreaking because it’s everything they own,” he said. “It becomes all-consuming.” However, the Scotts have not seen flood victims shaking their fists at the sky and asking Why Me? “I don’t believe God picks on us,” Tim said. “I believe God set a natural world in order and it runs according to the rules he set. The pain is equal. Somebody with more means has an easier way to deal with it, but I don’t imagine it’s any less painful to lose pictures of their kids. God loves us whether he floods our house or not. Maybe he has sent a message to you to give him a call. Maybe this is a great day for you to re-strike up a conversation. I don’t see it as punishment. Melissa and I haven’t come across anybody who felt like it was.”

Normalcy is returning. Students are back in the Salvation Army’s after-school programs. “When kids aren’t in school, it has an effect on their psyche: Things are not OK,” Tim said. “They enjoy the time they get to come over. It’s healthier for them in normal surroundings. Our young people were thrilled to get back in the swing of things.”

The Scotts say the ideal offshoot of hurricane recovery is that people become more involved in their communities. “If they don’t belong to a church, they become a member of a church or at least reach out to a church,” Tim said. “That’s how neighbors help each other. In some outlying areas we have not been able to get to, churches are feeding on their own. When you have no social network that’s a way to get one. Long before the federal government can get here or the state government or the canteen from Charlotte can get here, you have a next-door neighbor. In Karnack, Texas, a man took in 22 of his neighbors in the flood. Neighbor helps neighbor, and that’s what I would love to see come out of this. People get a bigger sense of the ‘we’ of the ‘us.’ It’s not you and me, it’s us.”

Why sending money really helps disaster recovery

Capt. Tim Scott, who runs the Salvation Army in Georgetown and Williamsburg counties with his wife, Melissa, is always thankful for donations.

In the aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Matthew, people begin cleaning out their closets and pantries to help those who have lost everything. So Scott has plenty of canned beans, but he can’t burn those in his gas tank. The best way to help, he says, is to send money. “As the needs change and rivers rise and fall, I may have food that’s needed in Beaufort. I have to find a truck, gas, a road that’s open, or I could do an electronic funds transfer and they can buy some food,” he said. “The needs are localized even as the storm was global. Day in and day out, the needs change. It turns out that money is by far the most effective and useful thing.”

The Salvation Army’s used clothing operation in Litchfield and its re-sale shop in Georgetown pay the monthly bills, he said, and continuing donations are always helpful. But people want to do more than write a check in times of trouble. They want the same feeling that Major Melissa Scott got when she handed out hot dinners to people who had lost electricity after the hurricane. She said she felt the “spirit of the community” in people when they cautioned her about giving them too much and not having enough for others. “We’ve got plenty,” she told them. “It’s OK.”

Residents of DeBordieu got together after the storm and bought a truckload of supplies for residents of flood-ravaged Lumberton. That’s effective early in a disaster’s aftermath when stores are still closed. Scott said the Salvation Army gave out 2,500 disposable diapers in the days after Hurricane Matthew when Wal-Mart was out of electricity and closed.

“People are gracious,” he said. “They know the situation they are in. When you don’t have food, a hot meal is unbelievable. People learn in a disaster, and I think it helps people be better than they were yesterday. That’s the experience we get.”

How to help: Send donations to the Salvation Army on line at give.salvationarmyusa.org; by mail to The Salvation Army, PO Box 1959, Atlanta, Ga., 30301 (Designate “Hurricane Matthew” on all checks); by phone at 1-800-725-2769 or by texting STORM to 51555 to receive a donation link for mobile giving.

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