There is one it turns out, an upside I mean.
It is deliberate and random acts of kindness. I have witnessed in the past three weeks true generosity and caring. The kind without an ulterior motive attached.
In the days following the flood, when we were finally able to return to the house and the neighborhood, people who had before only been geographically close to one another, living on the same street, in the same subdivision suddenly had something bigger in common, loss, survival, hope. We gathered as we surveyed the damage, offered solace and understanding, sometimes advice or information if we had it.
While laboring to begin separating out the belongings that could be salvaged and those that had been ruined by the flood waters, as people began to tear out carpeting, tile, linoleum, hardwood, carpet pad, trim, sheetrock, insulation, an “army” of fellow Nashvillians descended.
These were not people I knew before, in fact, I still don’t know them now, I don’t know their names or where they lived or why they chose to come to our neighborhood. But, they came, on that first day we were there, on a flatbed truck stacked with supplies, bottled drinking water, bleach, paper towels, cleaning supplies, information about where you could get clothing if you needed it, more food, and maybe most importantly a kind word and maybe just a little bit of hope.
They drove by and would ask if we needed anything, no cost, no sales pitch for any organization, business or church, just supplies for those beginning the clean up.
A few hours later as I threw away all those books that had been on the bottom shelf of the book shelf, now soaked through with water, the pages stuck together and the ink bleeding from the covers I heard a voice outside the living room window. A woman said to me, “Excuse me.” I turned around to see two women standing in the front yard, one wearing a “uniform” from Domino's Pizza. Each woman held a stack of pizza boxes. The one said, “Would you like a pizza?” “No thank you, I said, we ate, but thank you.” She said, “Would you like one for later?” “No, but thank you so much.” Again, there wasn’t any self-promotion with the offer, clearly just a local business doing what they could to help those affected.
As the days went on and the clean up continued, so did the offers of help, supplies, and food. The Metro Police Department took up position at either end of the street, discouraging any ne’er do wells who might think of taking advantage and stealing from those whose homes were now vacant, and providing security for a now ghost-town of a neighborhood.
The Red Cross arrived every evening, workers visiting the houses, where people worked to clean up and salvage belongings, to offer assistance and information. They were watching for the signs of post-traumatic stress. They also brought along with workers, hot meals for anyone who wanted one.
Complete strangers would walk up; wearing work gloves and ask if we needed help moving heavy items. When told no they would smile and move on to the next house. Another day, two young girls walked up and offered bottles of some type of mold removal stuff they had gone and purchased from the Home Depot. I don’t know for certain but I’m pretty sure those kind of things aren’t cheap but these girls were offering them to anyone who needed them – people, young, old, well-off, struggling, it didn’t matter – they were just reaching out to their fellow Nashvillians, doing what they could.
Those random acts didn’t account for the hundreds who volunteered their time, effort, and money at the Red Cross, at Second Harvest Food Bank, or at Hands on Nashville. Nor did it count the ones who went to the other neighborhoods and business to lend their time, morale, muscles, support.
But, that was not all. As I’ve mentioned, I work part time at Home Depot. I can’t speak for other Home Depots, only the one I work at, but you couldn’t find a nicer group of people who immediately came to the aid of those in need. I saw it first on Sunday, May 2nd while I was at work it thundered and the rain and the lightning continued. A woman called the store; she was at her home and didn’t know how to stop the flooding. Her neighbor had apparently put in some concrete that actually served to direct the water right towards her house. I watched as two employees, took it upon themselves to get some equipment from tool rental and some supplies including sand and plastic and drove to the woman’s house to erect a sandbag wall to stave off the water. These employees did it on their own, and were supported in doing so by store management, on store time. They helped not a customer but a neighbor who needed help.
After the flood and my evacuation, I was supposed to work that Monday but called out explaining that I had been evacuated and had no clothes or anything to wear to work. I was scheduled off Tuesday and Wednesday. I obviously didn’t suffer as terribly as others did but despite that, the entire ordeal seemed to knock me on my ass, both physically and emotionally. I got a call Tuesday evening from a fellow H.D. employee, one I had only met once or twice and really didn’t know. She said that everyone at the store had heard I had been flooded, were worried, and wanted to know that I was all right and if I needed anything.
When I returned to work again on Thursday, almost every employee, most of whom I really didn’t know since I had only worked there a couple of months, came to me, asked me how I was and what they could do to help or what did I need. To a person they all said all I need do was call if and when I needed help. I didn’t know these people but they treated me like a friend.
The store manager came up to me that first day and asked, “What are you doing here?” I answered, “Uh, working?” afraid that somehow in the days since the flood I had somehow lost my job. He asked, “Didn’t you get flooded out? Why are you here? What do you need? As soon as you’re ready you just let us know and we’ll be there, whatever you need.”
I can’t even tell you how close I was to crying. Nashville was my adopted home but these people acted as if I was family.
A day later the manager came to me, brought me a form, and told me to fill it out. It asked what store and department I worked in, what my home address was and what disaster had affected me. I filled out the form and returned it to him. Two hours later, he came to me with an e-mail with a confirmation number allowing me to go to Western Union and get cash – a grant from Home Depot available to employees in time of emergency.
My job there is part time, to allow me money for fun stuff, travel, diving etc. It is not my sole means of support as it is for many employees. I am a new employee, yet without a second thought they allowed me to take advantage of the grant, it came at such a perfect time. They allowed me to adjust my schedule to make it easier for me to continue the clean up, meet with FEMA and try to put my life back in some kind of order.
Retail jobs are retail jobs, no matter where you go. But, I will forever be a huge fan of Home Depot for taking care of their employees, even the brand new ones.
Really, it is also the very small acts of kindness that touched me most. This may sound silly to some but it to me was the epitome of what things are like here after the flood. Those first few days the mail was not being delivered, the mail trucks couldn’t get in either. I went to the post office because I was expecting something rather important in the mail. I waited in line and when I got to the window, I asked the woman if they were holding the mail from the Pennington Bend area. She said yes, and that I could just come pick my mail up there until they started delivery again. I gave her my driver’s license; she went in the back and retrieved my mail. I told her that if possible, I would prefer to just pick up my mail, I could no longer stay at the house and the post office was closer to where I was staying. She said no problem and I put a hold on my mail.
Since that day, I have returned to the post office probably every three days or so to pick up mail. And every time I am there no matter where I am in line, that same woman sees me and says, “Oh Ms. Jeffs, I’ll go get your mail.”
There is something about that act, remembering my name, not making me wait in line every time. Behaving as if it is the one small thing she can do for a flood victim to make their recovery easier.
Maybe it is like this anywhere there is a natural disaster. I don’t know, this is the first and hopefully the last time I’ll be in this position. But, it seems somehow unique to this area, this up side of the disaster this real sense that it is just so true … We Are Nashville.