'Operation Airdrop' Helps Deliver Supplies To Hurricane Florence Victims

Sep 21, 2018

During natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, we mostly hear about big relief agencies like FEMA and organizations like The Red Cross. But smaller groups are also working hard to help in the aftermath.

This week at Raleigh Durham International Airport, an endless supply of volunteers organized and packed emergency supplies for those in need out east. And then the packages were flown by a group of pilots for delivery. The grassroots effort is called “Operation Airdrop.”

This is my personal airplane. I fly around with my family on holidays and things. It's just nice to be able to do something with the airplane to help people. -Martin Fessele

Cars, trucks, minivans pulled up to the front door of the TAC Air private airport terminal like an organized fast food restaurant line. But instead of picking up, people were dropping off big boxes of diapers, food and gallons of water.

“Today we are bringing a few loads of water. But we have canned foods, dry goods,” said Brenda Monforti, who delivered goods in a pickup truck for the U.S. Veterans Corp office out of Cary.

“So whatever they need we are willing to bring, we just need to know,” she said. “We’re going to keep coming with what we have until somebody tells us different.”

Many donors learned of “Operation Airdrop” and efforts to deliver food, water and toiletries via the skyways from family and friends.

Jil Christensen is a Chapel Hill-based musician based.

“Because I was safe, I was like, ‘Aw, crowdsource rescue!’ And I started connecting people,” she said.

Christensen is one of those people who learned from a friend how “Operation Airdrop” helped move goods after last year’s Hurricane Harvey.

“All Operation Airdrop is, is kind of a glorified volunteer FedEx for organizations and individuals, and town mayors and fire departments to get things in areas that cannot be accessed by vehicles,”  Christensen said.

Volunteer Andy Gardiner organizes bottles of water at the TAC Air private airport terminal during "Operation Airdrop" earlier this week. Pilots and other volunteers delivered the supplies to Hurricane Florence victims in areas of southeastern North Carolina.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

With the help of TAC Air’s terminal and a cut in fees and fuel prices at RDU, more than 300 pilots from across the country signed up to help make deliveries this week.

One of them was Martin Fessele of New Jersey, flying a Beechcraft Bonanza.

“This is my personal airplane,” Fessele said. “I fly around with my family on holidays and things. It’s just nice to be able to do something with the airplane to help people.”

And Fessele has been busy.

“I flew three round trips yesterday, this will be my second today,” he said. “Hopefully I can squeeze five in before sunset. Because they don’t want us flying after sunset.”

Fessele has make trips to Lumberton, Wilmington and is now headed to the Cape Fear airport, carrying about 350 pounds of supplies at a time.

“You never realize how lucky you are until you see people who have lost everything and are up to their knees in water,” Fessele said.

This week, Operation Airdrop pilots have made more than 200 flights, flights they call, compassion missions.

Editor's Note: The broadcast version of this story incorrectly described the number of pilots who helped in Operation Airdrop's efforts. More than 300 pilots volunteered to help, if needed.