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Former Sears Converted Into Recovery Center at Mall

It’s been almost three weeks since Hurricane Florence slammed into the Cape Fear region. And during these last few weeks, thousands of residents and small business owners have been trying to put their lives back together. They have had some help. Such as the Disaster Recovery Center at Independence Mall.

“My name is Timothy Israel and I'm a Lieutenant with the Salvation Army and in the disaster I'm serving as the distribution coordinator for our warehouse of supplies.”

Behind the former Sears store at the Independence Mall, Tim Israel is directing traffic. A stream of cars between yellow cone lanes is slowly pulling up to a group of Salvation Army volunteers and staff, where each car is loaded with supplies.

“I’m here and we're giving out cleaning kits, water, food boxes, diapers, a lot of the centrals that are needed right after a disaster or crisis situation. Like what the residents here in the Cape Fear area have experienced. It's been pretty busy, especially, it's been very nonstop of cars coming through to receive items.”

Inside the former Sears, hundreds of people in need are in lines or sitting and waiting their turn.

The Department of Social Services is administering disaster food stamps in the form of EBT cards.

FEMA representatives are here to help area residents apply for FEMA assistance.

Multiple non-profit and community organizations are on hand to offer help, resources, and other support.

Thousands have already been through the process here, according to New Hanover County spokesperson Kate Murphy.

“I have to say this is something that certainly we have never done before and there was a vision and a great effort put into have a space that residents could seek relief as stress-free as possible. I think that has been achieved by the number of different partners that came in very quickly, that really shared that mission to be of service to the community and it stood up in, I don't know what record time would be, but it was pretty fast.”

StepUp Ministry of Raleigh, a non-profit working with adults to help with employment and life skills training, has a team in the recovery center, working with their Wilmington colleagues. Elaine Bryant-Donigan is a StepUp employment counselor.

“We're here to help the participants here that's coming for assistance and we want to catch the people that may have been impacted through the storm by offering employment training and counseling so that they can know that are unemployed or underemployed so that they can get back on their feet. There are so many people here in so many different situations. And so they're looking for work and looking to get back out there and provide for their families.”

Dozens of New Hanover County employees are helping to manage the center. Planners, accountants, engineers, and others are on assignment here to support with the recovery effort. For almost all of them, this is a new experience.

Kate Murphy.

“Yeah. This is new territory. This storm has been like no other I think that we've seen in very recent history and memory. So this community recovery resource center is, it’s very exciting that we were able, if there's a silver lining in all of this, it's very exciting that we were able to provide this to the community in fairly short order.”

The recovery center at Independence Mall is open until further notice.

The Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – also known as D-SNAP – will be on hand until this Saturday at 5 p.m. to register and distribute EBT debit cards.

Copyright 2021 WHQR. To see more, visit WHQR.

Vince Winkel /
The Salvation Army hands out supplies behind the former Sears at Independence Mall.
Vince Winkel /
The Salvation Army hands out supplies behind the former Sears at Independence Mall.

Vince Winkel joined the WHQR news team in March, 2017. He had previously been covering business and economics for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.
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