After raising nearly $100,000 in donations, and saving members of the community as much as four times that amount, the Wilmington City Council on Tuesday recognized the contributions of Port City Proud, the upstart volunteer tree removal volunteers, that helped in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
In recognizing the group of more than two dozen volunteers who had gathered at the dais, Mayor Bill Saffo said that Hurricane Florence showed that the Wilmington area were ready to “open up their hearts and their wallets” to contribute to those in need. Port City Proud, founded shortly after the storm, organized volunteers skilled with a chainsaw, and others just ready to help, for free debris and tree removal, taking donations when offered, that would be used to help others.
“Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned is that when the need is the greatest, we have a community made up of individuals who persevere through their own hardships to care for and help their fellow Wilmingtonians and the people of this county,” Saffo said. “Port City Proud is the perfect representation of what our community did for one another.”
Speaking for the organization, cofounder Jess Miller said the accomplishments were a group effort.
“This right here is Port City Proud,” said cofounder Jess Miller. “These guys poured so much effort, so much of their free time, to help strangers they don’t even know.”
Group cofounder Tegan Harmon said the recognition from the city was a testament to the volunteers that came out to hep, week in and week out.
“It felt good to be appreciated,” Harmon said. “We didn’t do it for the recognition, but especially for the volunteers, it’s great for them.”
While the group raised in total $91,000, several members said the real benefit was to the hundreds of individuals spared expensive labor charges for the trees cleanup.
Port City Proud serviced more than 350 yards, and with a conservative estimate of at least $1,000 of labor per yard, the group saved the community $400,000 or more in labor costs, Harmon said. Other members believed most services would have charged far more than $1,000 for the kind of cleanup work they did.
Given that early participation brought out more than 50 volunteers a day, one volunteer estimated more than 8,000 hours of labor, approaching $100,000 in saved labor costs for residents of the Port City.
In fact, stories spread among the tree service industry that locals were taking some of the profit out of this disaster cleanup zone.
“One of the contractors said that word had gotten out not to come here because a bunch of people were doing free work,” said volunteer Chase Hedrick. “He said he’d been all over the country doing storm cleanup and had never seen a volunteer effort like this one.”
Many who were helped donated to the group, with a few giving several hundred dollars, and many giving $50 or $100. Harmon said one individual gave $1,000, and the group never even cleaned his yard.
“He just did it to help,” Harmon said.
The group got to helping people shortly after it started raising money.
Early on after the storm, one New Hanover County school teacher flooded out her home told the group about her struggles after the storm caused upwards of $30,000 in damage to the home, located in the Ogden area outside of the floodplain.
“None of us were in a floodplain. No one had flood insurance,”said Allison White. “I’m a teacher that owns a house by myself. It’s been a big financial burden. It’s been a big emotional burden.”
While there was some assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, White said a $5,000 donation will help her replace the cabinets that were destroyed from water damage.
“Tegan [Harmon] said he would be able to help me,” said. Wine, who works as a behavior specialist at seven county pre-Kindergarten programs. “He said that I’m a teacher who works with a lot of kids to help them, it was time I got some help in return.”
Port City Proud organized its fundraising through the Wrightsville Beach-based charity Hope from Helen, which had to cancel its own annual charity auction with the closure of its host, the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, the charity’s founder Tony Butler said.
So while it couldn’t distribute its own funds, Hope from Helen was able to stay active with the donations raised by Port City Proud.
“They raised a tremendous amount of money in a short span of time. They were adamant and passionate about helping and we were honored to be part of it,” Butler said.
Harmon said that Hope from Helen organizers were able to provide experience on how to manage and distribute the funds raised. Butler said that 25 individuals or groups have already gotten distributions from the donations.
Meanwhile, Harmon said that Port City Proud would be out again in March, continuing the work they started.
“We’re going to keep going,” Harmon said. “There’s going to be more trees coming down from the storm. There’s going to be other hurricanes. There’s going to be freezing rains.”
More information on how to volunteer can be found at:facebook.com/Portcityproud.nc, instagram.com/port.city.proud or portcityproud.org.