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Hurricane relief group proves power in a community united

Hurricane Irma slammed the southern United States, but locals were ready to help evacuees as they fled from the storm.

By MARINA WATERS

The news was covered with images of flooded homes, destroyed buildings and a storm that’s still making it’s way through southern America.

That’s when two Jonesborough residents decided to do something about it.

“We were just saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if we could open up our homes?’ But we also said, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to know who was willing to open up their homes to house the evacuees?’” International Storytelling Center President and Jonesborough resident Kiran Sirah said. “So we decided to set up this page. Then we got contacted by folks in Asheville, Southwest Virginia, Bristol, Kingsport, and it turned into something that was much bigger than expected.”

Sirah and Jonesborough resident Ren Allen now have a group of over 800 people offering room in their homes, space for pets and any items an evacuee might need in the region.

Sirah said the group also helped to get people in touch with others who could help them. One family drove up from Florida and was so exhausted, they were sleeping in their car when the group got them in contact with people near them in the Nashville area who could assist them with a place to stay. Meanwhile, local information was also passed to out-of-towners looking for services while in the area.

“One person needed to find pet services that was opened on Sundays because his dog needed help,” Sirah explained. “So people posted information related so he could get his dog looked at. Even a local vet offered discounts for evacuees who had pets with them.”

Apart from the previous work Sirah has done with the Red Cross and the Scottish Refugee Council, he also comes from a family who once had to evacuate their home. In turn, this inspired the Jonesborough resident to encourage others to help any way they can.

“One of the things that I learned from my family having to flee persecution in 1972 from Uganda was that in the rush of having to evacuate a place, you sometimes forget to take all the things that you might need,” Sirah said. “These can sometimes include family photographs, documents, passports. In that process you might not think of everything you need to take.”

For those helping and those receiving help, it also served as a reminder for group members of the ability to unite.

“It strengthened the message of our Appalachian region. We are one region and we are binded by these mountains. We are a welcoming community. There’s so much talk about division in our nation, but here’s one example. When it comes down to it, we work together. I’m pleased to say that every single person who posted on that group, they came from so many political backgrounds and there was no political argument. We rolled up our sleeves and we got down to work.  And we worked together.”

For Sirah, this ultimately showed the power a group of community members can have during a time of need.

“It just shows that there’s so much an emergency service can do, but then there’s a lot that a local community can do.”