Award-winning CON faculty member leads response efforts
The community of St. Pauls in southeastern North Carolina has become well versed in the damage that hurricanes can cause, and ECU College of Nursing faculty member Dr. Michelle Skipper and her husband Bruce have become the local experts on helping their community weather the storms.
After Hurricane Matthew battered the eastern part of the state in 2016 and left St. Pauls residents without food, water and shelter, the Skippers stepped in to help, and Michelle was later recognized with the Governor’s Award for Public Service for her work.
As Hurricane Florence brought flooding and power outages to the region beginning Sept. 14, the Skippers prepared to help their community once again. When College of Nursing faculty members learned that Skipper’s community was again one of the most in need of supplies, they began collecting donations from students, faculty and staff to send down.
St. Pauls United Methodist Church, where Bruce is the pastor, was the only place in town where people could go to get a hot meal for more than a week, Skipper said. They began preparing free meals for community members on Sunday, Sept. 16. The first few days the town was without power, the Skippers and other members of the church used grills to prepare food that church members brought in from their own home supplies, serving meals by candlelight. Later in the week, the NC Baptist Men delivered meals in bulk, which church members then divvyed into individual portions for hungry visitors.
Over the seven-day period, the group served more than 3,000 meals. When they went home in the evenings, once the power came back on, Skipper and other church members washed clothes for others who couldn’t and baked desserts to go with the meals.
“When the meals were being provided, they didn’t come with any desserts. So at the end of the day, most of the people who worked in the food service would go home and bake so that there was at least one cupcake or brownie or something for people. So, a small group of women, probably about 10 of us, baked 3,000 desserts this week.”
It wasn’t a position that Skipper or other residents of St. Pauls necessarily thought they’d find themselves in — again — anytime soon.
“I think folks are still stunned that we ended up in the same shape again as we were two years ago,” Skipper said. “They kept saying Hurricane Matthew was a one-in-a-thousand-year flood event, but here we are again in the same position two years later.”
But Matthew had taught the Skippers a lesson or two about storm preparation, which they applied in their approach to Hurricane Florence. Because of the advanced warning provided by meteorologists, the church pantry was able to supply more food to community members before Florence hit.
“For Matthew, we didn’t realize how bad it was going to be, so we didn’t give out a lot of food ahead of the storm,” she said. “This time, we knew the storm was going to be bad and we knew kind of when it was coming, so we pretty much gave out everything we had. We mainly cooked the hot meals, and over the last couple days we’ve built back up our pantry supply.”
Many of those supplies were replenished by the donations from the College of Nursing, which sent staff member Tom Andresky in a pickup truck full of water, food, cleaning supplies and other crucial items to St. Pauls on Monday.
Tuesday, the church’s food pantry opened its doors to give away food to those whose supplies had dwindled or been compromised by the storm. Skipper estimated the pantry would feed 500 people on Tuesday with the food donated by the College of Nursing and other organizations.