“It's like a home away from home": Local church aids hurricane evacuees

Tuesday, September 3, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

BEECH ISLAND, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- When it comes to hurricanes and people needing help, it's no surprise churches in our area are stepping up and taking people in.

The evacuees at Heights Church are having dinner tonight. There are about 44 people so far, many who've become familiar faces over the years.

Heights Church is not your typical evacuation shelter.

“It's like a home away from home," said Jacqueline Swan, a Savannah evacuee.

It's Swan's third time packing up her family and heading north to Beech Island.

"They just look after us. They just ask us if we need anything because they empathize with us that we had to leave our homes to flee from the storm," said Swan.

"I'm glad you've got a safe place to come," said Pastor Mark Canipe.

Pastor Mark Canipe started opening the doors four years ago. Volunteers feed them three meals a day. There are showers and anything you might need.

"I saw this family at the sprint where the evacuation routes come together, and just the look on their face. They had nowhere to go. I said, 'well, you do now,” said Canipe.

Over the years, one family turned into dozens and each year is like a family reunion, hugs and all.

"I love it so much that I invited my friend to come, and he brought his family," said Mary Smalls.

Smalls evacuated from Beaufort, South Carolina. She's worried about her home, as most just hope for the best.

“Just keep our eyes on God almighty. So, I don't have any worries," Swan said.

An open door helps too, and that's what people do for family and sometimes even strangers.

"We just appreciate everything they've done for us. We thank God they were there when we needed them," Swan said.

There's still room for any evacuees who need a place to stay. It's limited because each family is blessed with their own church classroom.

Just like other shelters opening in the area, they still need donations.