Maxine Locklear Amos is fortunate. The Lumberton, N.C., resident and member of the Lumbee Tribe suffered no damage from Hurricane Florence when it made its slow, destructive descent over the state in September, claiming lives and flooding properties.

She also walked away unscathed from Hurricane Michael, which formed only weeks after Florence and also affected the Carolinas. But with many in the region facing a difficult road back to recovery, the 82-year-old has been hard at work along with other Lutherans at organizations large and small providing aid.

“Our numbers are low, but we’ve got a big heart,” Amos said. She is the disaster response co-chair of St. Mark in Lumberton, the only Lutheran church in Robeson County, which typically attracts a few dozen members to services.

The church operates a food pantry that has provided assistance. “We have opened our doors,” Amos said. “We are providing vouchers for children who need school clothing. We have distributed personal hygiene items. People have come in to receive cleaning supplies.”

St. Mark held a mold remediation class and has mold detectors available for church and community members to borrow, Amos added.

Robeson County has one of the highest poverty levels in the country for a county of its size, said Carl Rosenberg, a guest supply pastor at the church. The county is home to the Lumbee Tribe, which has 60,000 members in Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland and Scotland counties, said Harvey Godwin Jr., tribal chair. He said Hurricane Florence destroyed 80 homes owned by the tribe.

More than 70 percent of children in Robeson County live below the poverty line, and before Florence made landfall, many residents had not yet recovered from Hurricane Matthew, which devastated the region in 2016, said Rosenberg and Godwin.

Lutheran Services Carolinas, which received a $4 million two-year government grant to provide disaster case management assistance following Matthew, assisted 1,650 people impacted by that storm. When Florence blew in, they still had more than 700 active cases, said Paul Dunn, director of the agency’s case management program in North Carolina.

Poor and middle-income families have been hurt by the combination punch of Matthew and Florence. “It’s going to be a long road back.”

Godwin said poor and middle-income families have been hurt by the combination punch of Matthew and Florence. “We have people affected from Hurricane Matthew,” he said. “They didn’t have flood insurance. They had to go through savings and never got back to the quality of life they had before Hurricane Matthew.”

Some people have been hit again by Florence and “are in a worse situation than before,” he added. “It’s going to be a long road back.”

Lutheran Disaster Response, through Lutheran Services Carolinas, is supporting relief efforts in the worst-hit areas of North and South Carolina.

“The first check that Lutheran Disaster Response sent to us went to Lutheran Services Carolinas and it was $200,000,” said Tim Smith, bishop of the North Carolina Synod. “We are using that for direct assistance and to establish case management moving forward. The bishops of Region 9 sent us about $10,000, which enabled us to hire a half-time person to work for the synod staff [to help coordinate disaster response].”

The synod is dealing with humanitarian needs and damage to church properties like St. Andrew Lutheran in New Bern. Its sanctuary is unusable, its organ was destroyed and pews were warped, Smith said.

Meanwhile, 17 families from St. Andrew don’t have a home anymore. “Some are insured. Some are not,” Smith said. Some congregations and homeowners are dealing with insurers who have denied claims, and others are facing high deductibles, he added.

While Lutheran Services Carolinas and Lutheran Disaster Response are focused on the humanitarian needs, funds have been received from other sources to assist with damaged church buildings. “We’ve gotten about $50,000 from congregations and other synods,” Smith said. “We are immediately pushing that to congregations. It’s undesignated, so they can use it at their discretion to help their church members, their community or to put toward their building.”

It’s important for Lutherans to remain involved, said Jean Horman, also a visiting supply pastor at St. Mark. “Acting in God’s love is the essence of what our faith is about,” she said.

Francine Knowles

Knowles is a freelance writer and former religion and business reporter with the Chicago Sun-Times.

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