Lowcountry residents show Southern hospitality with Sandy donation drive

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Lowcountry residents show Southern hospitality with Sandy donation drive

Published Friday, November 9, 2012   |  681 Words  |  

Whenever a hurricane threatened the Lowcountry, Kate Swisher could expect nonstop calls from relatives in New Jersey checking on her.

"(E)ven ones that would hit the Outer Banks, my phone would be ringing off the hook," said Swisher, who lives on Hilton Head Island.

Now, it's her turn to worry.

"I never thought it would be them," she said.

Swisher's mother, Kathy, lost her Mystic Island, N.J., home to flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy and has since been forced to rely on the kindness of others.

That's when Swisher knew it was time to show some of the values of her new home state, what she called "a little Southern hospitality."

A Lowcountry donation drive to help those in coastal areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut is in full force. In local schools, gyms, businesses and churches, donations for the "Low Country Relief for Victims of Hurricane Sandy" have poured in this week. At organizer Chip Collins' realty office on Hilton Head, Swisher joked that boxes had piled high enough to nearly wipe out the need for a staircase to the second floor.

Another organizer, Billy Gavigan of Gavigan Homes, secured a warehouse at East Coast Liquidators in Beaufort and has been trucking boxes of food, toiletries and other items to the space. From there, the donations will be hauled to Charleston on Sunday and sent north by CSX train, which is also a drive sponsor.

Gavigan said the goal is to distribute the items to rural areas and smaller towns, as opposed to the metropolitan areas that have already received assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and organizations like the American Red Cross.

"The challenge we face is getting it to the right areas, to towns the size of Bluffton, Beaufort or Hilton Head, that haven't been helped as much," Gavigan said.

Other groups have started drives and partnerships, as well. In Beaufort, Scott Lewis of Luther's Rare & Well Done has set up a donation box to collect winter clothes and blankets, as temperatures drop and snow falls in the Northeast. Many there are still without power. On Hilton Head, the Schembra Real Estate Group is gathering clothing for New York charities.

Although clothing is a popular donation item, Swisher said nonperishable food and toiletries are especially needed. She also is thinking of first-responders -- some from far away areas who may not be used to the cold -- and is seeking hand warmers and disinfectants for their comfort.

The Lowcountry chapter of the American Red Cross deployed its 17th disaster services worker on Wednesday to prepare for the nor'easter that struck this week.

Gavigan said he hopes the charity that Beaufort County residents are showing victims -- whether they have ties to the Northeast or not -- will result in a "sister community" that will return the favor if a disaster hits the Lowcountry.

"We want to sign a proclamation of goodwill between our two areas, that we will be there to support each other in times we need assistance," said Gavigan, who is originally from Upstate New York. "This is not the last of it."

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