News & Opinion » The (Civil) Society Column

Hail the Hurricane Heroes (that's you!)

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Charley Ward (r.) and Bart Haigh are saving Savannah’s historic trees from the landfill.
  • Charley Ward (r.) and Bart Haigh are saving Savannah’s historic trees from the landfill.

ALL RIGHT, kids, roll call: Who’s back to normal?

It’s coming up on three weeks since that jerk Matthew blew through town like a drunken frat bro, peeing in the houseplants and wrecking the place before stumbling off to sucker punch North Carolina.

Even if we ducked Matt’s wildly swinging arms with minimal damage, it’s been a challenge to get back to the old routines. Most everybody has their electricity humming again thanks to the Georgia Power linemen who rolled in like the Allies liberating Germany, but swathes of homes are still without cable or internet. Our firefighters and first responders are operating at burnout levels, and service folk are struggling to make up income from missed work shifts. And just when we thought we’d seen the back end of this mess, say hello to monster mosquitos and mold.

Whatever normal used to be, most of us aren’t quite there yet. For some, like the 19 families flooded out of the Westlake Apartments, life will never be the same.

The silver lining may be faint, but it’s there. The elevated sense of community and caring that emerged in the days after the storm continues to reverberate as the weeks go by, and this bastard of a hurricane has created thousands of heroes who have given freely of their time, money and shoulders to cry on, no FEMA paperwork necessary.

Some ought to be sprinkled with a little extra lovedust: The Facebook page Riding out Hurricane Matthew in the SAV began as a check-in point for the steadfast and has ballooned to more than 6500 members, evolving into a clearinghouse of good works with cheerful encouragement from founder Meg Gorski Pace. The big hearts behind Loop it Up Savannah, Blessings in a Bookbag, Be The Good Savannah and the local Salvation Army have tirelessly distributed essentials like bedding, diapers and baby formula. Performance Initiatives, Inc. and the Savannah Realtors Association have held box lunch bonanzas for all.

Acupuncturist Jeffrey Schifanelli
  • Acupuncturist Jeffrey Schifanelli

Savannah Feed the Hungry opened its Garden City warehouse for citizens to restock their refrigerators and pantries early on, then joined forces with a veritable army of do-gooders for Operation Feed Savannah. Great Dane Trailers offered up a refrigerated container for the perishables, and 24E’s Ruel Joyner cleared out a large corner to store almost a half a million cans of donated food. State representative and SFTH founder Carl Gilliard and his sister, storyteller Patt Gunn, teamed up with Savannah First Lady Cynthia DeLoach and Mike Vaquer of the Georgia Restaurant Association to coordinate more than 15,000 hot meals in five locations in the last few weeks, served by legions of volunteers.

“I knew Carl had the template already for feeding people, and we were able to quickly build on it,” says organizer Ms. Deloach. “All I can say is the goodness of people has really come together.”

While the priority of full bellies is tended to, we’re all still dodging piles of browning leafy debris. Party boy Matt left a lotta broken trees in his wake, and removing them continues to be a tremendous task for county crews working their way to our neighborhoods. Let’s be patient with them, since their torpid pace is allowing for a different set of saviors and their power tools.

The enterprising and eco-minded have been scavenging the curbs, trying to save all that fine wood from being shredded to mulch or ending up in the landfills. Team Rubicon has hit the streets with chainsaws and charm for Operation Spanish Moss, giving veterans an opportunity to use their recovery skills and serve local communities. The group behind SAVe the Historic Trees is removing fallen oaks, hickory, cedar and other hardwoods and turning them into useful lumber at Slovannah Farms on the outskirts of town.

“We have a sawmill, we have the tractor, and we’re trying to stay ahead of the county,” says DIYer Sarah Ward, whose husband, Charley, has been rounding up logs six feet or longer with woodworker and furniture maker Bart Haigh. “It’s been such a great collaboration. We’ve helped people, and they’re helping us.”

Some of the salvaged wood will go to sustainable design group Emergent Structures and reincarnated as end tables and cutting boards as part of the new the Phoenix Project, headed remotely by former Savannahian Denis Lepine. Ramsey Khalidi of Southern Pine Co. is already making commemorative benches out of our downed giants.

The canopy has some big gaps to fill, and perhaps the best way to honor our lost leafy friends is to replant them. The Savannah Tree Foundation will be giving away free three-gallon saplings of various species this Saturday at Food Day (see story on page 16.)

All those broken branches are a telling reflection of how rattled some of us still feel on the inside. To help folks cope with post-hurricane stress, Jeffrey Schifanelli and Jen Marks of Savannah Community Acupuncture hosted two days of free treatments last weekend, setting up triage at the One Body Holistic Center.

“Acupuncture works on the nervous system, which goes into overdrive during times of trauma,” explains Schifanelli, who has practiced for six years and is president of SCA, a licensed non-profit that aims to make acupuncture accessible and affordable for all with a sliding scale of $15-$35 per session.

“It’s also shown to increase serotonin, so people feel more relaxed, which we thought would be useful right now.”

SCA keeps costs down by practicing in a group setting, which Schifanelli says is part of the healing: “What we’ve found is that it has an aggregate benefit of creating community. People want to feel more connected.”

That seems to be truer than ever, and it’s undeniable that tremendous positive connections have sprung out of Mad Matt’s rampage. This space can’t even begin to cover all the cooperation and generosity, so please share your Hurricane Heroes in the comments section or on the Connect Savannah Facebook page.

It’s likely that the most valiant stories are the ones we’ll never know about, the anonymous bag of new sheets and towels left on a porch, money moved into GoFundMe accounts, quiet evenings consoling neighbors we never knew until now.

If we can make that kind of tenderness the new normal, perhaps that would be the most heroic act of all..

cs

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