PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Pender County is one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Florence. More than six months after the storm hit, the Pender County Long Term Recovery Group is still busy working with thousands of families in need, connecting them to nonprofit agencies offering assistance such as The North Carolina Baptist Men, Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM), and Catholic Charities. Not only is the group trying to help others in need, they are also in need themselves. With no building or office to call their own, members meet at the Pender County Library in Burgaw or the nearby Brown Dog Coffee Shop.
Jennifer Witkowski, the group’s chairperson, says they signed a contract with FEMA with the intention to help hurricane victims. That contract allows the group to have access to the FEMA database, where they can obtain information on victims and families in need. Based on FEMA’s reports of damage from the hurricane, Witkowski’s group estimates it will cost $20 million or more to repair the three thousand or so damaged homes in Pender County.
“We knew that the financials were going to be bad, we were banking maybe it was going to be a five million dollar project and we kind of knew that and were prepared," Witkowski said. “But to know that we are over $20 million in damages was absolutely devastating. Trying to even wrap our minds around ‘how do we figure this out for long term basis?’ is going to be really challenging.”
Witkowski says her group will not be able to give every storm victim everything they want in recovery assistance. They plan to help as many families as they can. Right now the group is tracking at least five hundred people through the recovery process. They are reaching out to the community for financial donations, and have applied for grants that can be used in their efforts. Witkowski estimates getting assistance to the majority of storm victims in the county, and rebuilding damaged homes, could take seven to eight years, but her volunteers are in it for the long term.