On Monday, September 17, 2018, I received a phone call from Mayor Jay Bender indicating that the Filling Station would be the best place to stage disaster relief for our area. The night before, my husband and I evacuated our family farm to New Bern so that we would be able to access high speed internet and make the necessary connections to prepare the Filling Station as a possible place to help our community. So, when the phone call came in on Monday afternoon, we could say we were ready to roll. The whole week was consumed with my phone ringing off the hook from people wanting to help and bring supplies to our area. With the help of my husband, who is our web designer for the Filling Station website, we added a “donation online” button to be able to receive monetary donations coming in.
After many calls and emails with our board, we decided to open the Filling Station for a disaster relief. We had a skeleton of a Food Pantry and a few deliveries had been made of cleaning buckets, baby supplies and hygiene kits. Roads were still flooded and there was only one way into Pollocksville for the first few days. We were all running on adrenaline and in shock about what was happening. People were stopping by with shell-shocked faces asking for help. We were grabbing items and putting them in their cars, giving hugs and wishing them well as they headed off in their cars.
Sunday arrived and it was decided we would have a community worship service at the Presbyterian Church and the minister from the Baptist church, which was flooded, preached the sermon that morning. The church was packed. The emotions were high. Everyone was hugging each other and grateful for a place to worship.
Our entire downtown area had been destroyed. All the businesses, the Town Hall, the only restaurant in town, the Post Office and over 60 homes flooded. This was the 2nd flood in 18 years but so much worse. Our neighboring town, Trenton, was also mass destruction with the fire department rescuing people in the middle of the night. People were displaced living their cars and wondering what to do next. The Jones County Civic had not opened yet due to the flooded roads. So, The Filling Station had been designated at the Disaster Relief Center for the county for a few days.
As the supplies came in, they flowed out. We kept looking at the empty tables and shelves wondering if we might run out. Each morning we arrived at 9 AM and had a volunteer meeting at 9:30 AM with announcements and prayers. We had no idea what we were doing. No Manual for this so we prayed and leaned on God. Everything we prayed for arrived. We needed volunteers so we prayed …they arrived. We needed PB&J so we prayed and it arrived. We needed bug repellent…so we prayed and it arrived. One morning we were running out of cleaning supplies and we fervently prayed. Within 15 minutes, a tractor trailer arrived with all the supplies we needed for the people coming.
The serving and brokenness in the people created the most beautiful place for God to work. There was no physical leader at The Filling Station. We were all following the spirit within this place called the Filling Station. We were available and ready. There was no other option than to lean on each other and be led by the spirit. It was absolutely the amazing, organic display of God’s people in service to each other.
The dream of opening The Filling Station started several years ago. There was a small group of people who had a burden on their heart. Some money had been given and a building available for use. The struggle of trying to figure out what God wanted to do through His people was tough. We met, we prayed, we disagreed, and plans were voted against. This happened twice. The 3rd time the idea was presented to open The Filling Station to serve people only passed by one vote. There was much hesitation and so many questions. Once we started, all the doors starting opening.
November 2017, we became a 501 (c)3 and received our Tax Id number. On April 15,2018 we became an official board, officers were voted and the original committee stepped back so community supported non-profit could begin to thrive. The board has 14 members representing 12 churches, 1 county commissioner and 1 individual business man. We had a sense of urgency to get things moving so we set a date for board training. When The Filling Station opened for disaster relief, the board had only met 4 times which included a 6 hour board training. This baby organization grew up “overnight”.
We were visited by Sen Richard Burr and Thom Tillis’ offices. Congressman Walter B. Jones and NC Governor Roy Cooper. In addition, the Wall Street journal and Public Radio were on site with journalists. This week we will welcome PBS from CA to share the story for a documentary. This certainly isn’t the way we envisioned getting the word out about the mission in town of 300 nestled in a county of 10,000.
We have stretched and never to be the same again. The hard work can be overwhelming at times and emotions are still very much on the fence. The resilience I see in the people of Jones County is the most beautiful gift in the world. I am not sure of the plan in how we will rebuild but I do know that we are positioned to be blessed way beyond our imaginations.
We must continue to express gratitude in the face of the ungrateful; love the unlovely; serve the brokenhearted and as we do, we will heal as a community.