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BCSD employees worked around the clock to serve those in need during Hurricane Florence

Published Wednesday, September 19, 2018

This photo shows cots set up in the gym at Goose Creek High School

The photo above was taken in the gym at Goose Creek High School during Hurricane Florence. BCSD shelters served more than 800 people in need before and during the storm. (BCSD photo)

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster gave an order that schools be closed and Berkeley County residents evacuate ahead of Hurricane Florence. As people secured their homes to hunker down or leave the area as ordered, many BCSD employees were working nonstop to help those needing emergency accommodations.

Seven schools opened their doors as shelters, and BCSD employees, working alongside teams from the Red Cross, local law enforcement and other agencies, did their best to serve hundreds of men, women and children hoping for the best and fearing the worst.

Berkeley Middle School Principal Mike Wilkerson has served his community every time his school was needed as a shelter for the last seven years. He said when such emergency and life-threatening situations occur, it’s a reminder of the school’s role as a vital organ to communities.

“It’s an important service to the community, because we have folks that need a place to go,” Mr. Wilkerson said. “It makes you feel good that you can serve your community during a crisis.”

Once doors are opened and feet cross the threshold of educational spaces transformed into buzzing emergency shanties, Wilkerson and other BCSD employees begin the job of providing all they can to minimize what’s a traumatic experience for many.

St. Stephen Elementary Principal Dr. Elaine Graham said her school served as many as 100 people. Her experience working in school shelters over the years has led her to understand that most people walk in “naturally terrified.”

“No one wants to evacuate and go somewhere and leave your home,” Dr. Graham said. “We try to do everything we can to make the experience a good one.”

Dr. Graham and other employees of the school worked from 7:45 Tuesday morning until 6:50 Saturday evening. They prepared food, coordinated additional meals with help of Lowcountry Food Bank and set up movies in common areas.

“We tried to make it a family-friendly atmosphere,” she said. “People were so appreciative of everything.”

That appreciation stretched well beyond school property and the people sheltered by its steadfast walls. Several members of the community, including the town’s mayor, stopped by to offer help and thank those at the shelter for their service.

“So many people come by and asked what they can do or what they can bring. They dropped off cases of water, loaves of bread,” Dr. Graham said.

As SSE employees slept on cots and worked with other agencies to serve the community, the school’s phone rang constantly and served as a reminder of the serious concerns the threat of a hurricane can create.

“People were interested in the shelter, what’s needed, hours of operation. There were just all kinds of questions about the shelter as most people have no idea,” Dr. Graham said.

While a person may not remember the time they call a school to ask about report cards, they will remember the time they called about the emergency shelter. They will remember how they were comforted when they feared all could be lost.

That’s why Wilkerson said it’s important for school administrators and employees to serve.

“We are creating relationships with folks,” he said. “…Just about everyone there was there the entire duration. It’s our job to try and do whatever you can to make their lives as normal as possible during that time period.”

In addition to the previously mentioned schools, Cane Bay High, Westview Middle, Macedonia Middle, Cross High and Goose Creek High served as shelters.

“A lot of employees put a lot of selfless hours in, making sure people had a safe environment to come in the midst of the uncertain path of the storm,” said Goose Creek High Assistant Principal Brendan Glaze.

Brian Troutman