Hundreds didn’t mind the grime, packing the St. James High School campus in Murrells Inlet Sunday as thousands of bags of sand and dirt were filled, tied up, given away and even delivered.
“There is nothing that you can ask the community that they won’t do,” school principal Vann Pennell said. “They’ll come in a heartbeat. …It’s wonderful.”
Young people and adults from throughout the Strand alike shoveled dirt and zip tied bags, heaving them into truck beds.
Socastee High School senior and student body president Ward Wilson helped come up with the idea of the filling and giving away of the bags.
Wilson is part of DECA, a marketing and business club, at the school, being the S.C. DECA vice president of hospitality.
Having seen the damage Hurricane Matthew brought to the area in 2016, he hoped to help the community ready for Florence.
“It’s just beyond anything we imagined,” he said of the volunteers’ efforts.
He talked to a another SHS senior and Socastee High DECA president Iliriana Lakani as well as their advisors, Jason Williams and Lou Ellen Blackmon, who teach at Socastee High.
Volunteers on Wednesday started preparing homes in the Rosewood community of Socastee by doing such things as placing sandbags outside houses.
Parts of the neighborhood that sits near the Intracoastal Waterway saw inundation by Sunday afternoon. The waterway in Socastee is expected to crest around 23 feet on Wednesday or Thursday, according to information provided the National Weather Service, with the crest after Hurricane Matthew being just over 19 feet. County officials on Sunday warned residents in parts of Socastee and Forestbrook that they could potentially flood.
“We were really just getting people’s stuff out of their houses and then it started with the sandbag thing,” Wilson said.
The following day and on Friday, the sandbag operation moved to Socastee High.
By the time the weekend approached, information on the volunteers’ work and how to get involved had been widespread via social media and word of mouth.
“It blew up,” Chuck Capps, a band and orchestra teacher at St. James High, said, describing volunteers’ work as a “Grand Strand wide effort.” He added he drove several loads of sand throughout the area.
Wilson said, “The community response has just been like wildfire. It’s been great.”
By Saturday work moved further south to St. James High, spilling into Sunday.
“It really does help,” said St. James High junior Casey Godbold, who helped in loading and delivering throughout the week at the two high schools. “If you’re able to do it, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to.”
Those at the school thanked different agencies, businesses, members of the community and local politicians like S.C. Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford, R-District 68, for helping make the giveaway possible.
Over 13,000 to 14,000 bags were given away Saturday, many more the following day.
At St. James High this weekend, the Salvation Army had a truck set up feeding volunteers and several businesses donated refreshments as well as sand and dirt and bags. Emergency medical workers were also on standby in case anyone needed medical attention.
The South Strand school started with a few thousand bags Saturday before another hundreds of thousands more were eventually donated.
Plans were as of Sunday afternoon to have the giveaway once more on Monday at St. James High.
“It’s just been an amazing thing,” Pennell said. “It’s all been a big community effort.”