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A trail of generosity in West Virginia

August 3, 2016

White Sulphur Springs, WV — The floodwater in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., rose to an unnavigable level in just ten minutes on June 23. From the front window of her home, on her 78th birthday, Glenna Butts watched her street fill up with water that took her car with it.

“I stood here and watched my car go down in the creek,” she said, standing on her front porch while volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) work inside her house. “Then we went out with rescuers on ropes.”

The rescuers pulled Butts, her daughter, and her 14-year-old great-granddaughter to safety through the rushing current of floodwater. “The rescuers lost me,” she said, “but someone grabbed me and lifted me out. They thought I had a heart attack but a current of water hit the back of my legs and I slipped and went down.”

Rescue workers took the three women to city hall. “We put on dry clothes that people had brought, and we had some snacks people had donated. Then we called my sister to come get us.”

But they were stuck, at least temporarily. The roads leading into town were washed out. “For three days, they fed us on the street. Hot meals — hamburgers and hot dogs. Everybody in White Sulphur Springs has been great and so has the love from other states.”

When Butts noticed MDS trucks at a neighbor’s house, she got the phone number. Since then, she said, “there have been maybe 50 or 100 volunteers working in my house — and not a rude one in the bunch. They have been standing by us from day one. They even brought us bread. How can we repay you?”

Larry Stoner, MDS regional operations coordinator, gives her the answer: “You don’t have to.” Stoner visited the town a few days after flash flooding took 23 lives and destroyed hundreds of homes in West Virginia and Virginia.

“Looking around the town, there was just so much destruction,” he said. “I’ve seen floods in other areas but I’ve never seen destruction this bad from a flash flood. Just so much water.”

While visiting the civic center, Stoner met a couple who had about 50 RVs for rent. Since the annual Greenbrier Classic golf tour was canceled because of the floods, the couple donated their RVs — along with lots to park them at the West Virginia state fair grounds — to MDS for two weeks. Volunteers from early response teams have stayed in the trailers ever since. The couple has continued to charge half the normal fee as MDS teams keep working.

West Virginia’s recovery is still in an early phase, Stoner explained. “Some people need debris picked up from their houses, some need insulation pulled, some need to check crawl spaces for water. There are 1,300 names on the crisis cleanup list alone.”

Stoner returned to West Virginia a few weeks ago with Kevin King, executive director of MDS, to continue to assess the needs. As they drove the six hours from the MDS headquarters in Lititz, Pa., to White Sulphur Springs, they stopped for breakfast in Harrisonburg. When the people behind the counter at the bagel shop found out what MDS was doing, they donated a box of bagels to be delivered to the volunteers.

“There is a trail of generosity wherever you go,” reflected King.

MDS both attracts and leaves behind a trail of generosity, agreed Anne Dean, Butts’s sister-in-law. After witnessing the work MDS has done in the wake of the flood, she made a donation to MDS and inspired her mother to make a donation as well.

“When you have something like this happen to your home, you don’t know where to go, what to do, where to start,” she said. “MDS knows what to do. They know who to get to do it. You can just put that burden in their hands and know that you’re going to be taken care of with a spirit of generosity that is overwhelming.”

By Susan Kim for MDS

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