RIDGELAND, Sc. (WSAV) – Tens of thousands evacuated Florida in the past week and now that Hurricane Irma has come and gone, they’re all on their way back home, many of them heading south through Jasper County where the community created a pit stop to make sure they don’t leave hungry.
For days, it has been bumper to bumper on Highway 17 in Ridgeland with evacuees diverting from Interstate 95 trying to avoid traffic on their way home. That’s why one resident brought the community together to organize a pit stop called Operation Evacuee Comfort at the Jasper Farmers Market on Highway 17 Wednesday.
“Our community was spared from hurricane Irma… a lot of communities weren’t. There’s a lot of people that are traveling,” said Rhonda Lowther, said Ridgeland resident and the event organizer, “They’re having to choose do we buy gasoline or do we feed our families, so it’s been heartbreaking to see families having to make that decision… so in a little way maybe we can help at least get food to get home on.”
It all started with one Facebook post and less than 24 hours later, the community had rallied thousands of donations: cold water, snacks, homemade goods, dog food and even snow cones from Jabb’s Snowcones.
“My dad has aneurysms… and doing all this trip going back and forth, that’s a lot of money that we spend,” said Sonnia Macias who evacuated Hallandale, “Then we stop here to get gas, and this gentleman told me you need food for your dog, I said yeah, he said look over there I said wow, so that touched me to see these people here.”
Last week Hardeeville’s police chief estimated 100,000 cars drove through their town evacuating from the south, now, those cars are on their way back home.
Hilton Head’s Shannon Tanner even left the farmers market to hand goods out right at the freeway exit.
“When I came out to put the signs up, I realized this was really a point that people needed to be met at, right here, because they might not be able to find that,” Tanner said.
Diana Moran evacuated Orlando last week and had been on the road for 15 hours when she and her family got to Ridgeland.
“I’m with my kids and it hasn’t been easy ’cause we have to stop to put in gas, to eat, you know, its’, but thanks God we alive,” she said.
“And here, they helping people with food, water, everything they want,” she added with a big smile… that smile traveling to other 500 miles away.
“A lot of free bread to go take home to cook some dinner of people, yeah, we have a whole family dinner tonight with a whole bunch of people that don’t have power or electricity. My house just turned into a hotel ’cause we have power,” said Dani Arshad of North Miami Beach.
It wasn’t just Jasper County residents that showed up to help volunteer or donate Wednesday, people from Hampton and Beaufort came as well.
“That’s the Southern way, that’s what we do,” said Lowther.