In the wake of the flood, West Virginia was beset with stories of heartbreak and tragedy. But as we saw in the days that followed, they were responded to with stories of resilience and generosity, strength in community, compassion and determination.
Our hearts go out to every person, family and community that suffered losses, and that continues to suffer.
Even as The Hub staff join the massive volunteer response effort to provide affected communities with the immediate and pressing needs they have right at this moment – food, water, shelter, clothing – we are also compelled to look just a little further ahead, to lift our eyes slightly from the mud and debris right in front of us to the landscape and horizon that opens up beyond.
In a thoughtful and thought-provoking article just days after the flood, Don Smith of the West Virginia Press Association urged us all to be aware that, for these families, true “recovery” from this disaster will require more than emergency support over the next couple of weeks or even months.
“They need help. Real arm-around-your-shoulder, I’ll-be-here-tomorrow-too help,” he wrote.
“We should not consider the flood recovery finished until the elderly women stop crying.”
Given the right help, we have no doubt these communities will recover. They may not look the same, they may not be the same. But as we have seen in the example of communities rebounding from tragedy in Appalachia and all over the world, reinvention and change must happen if we are to rebuild and be renewed.
In the months and years ahead, The Hub will be there for these communities, just as we are there for communities already suffering the decades-long loss and decimation of unemployment, drug addiction and abandonment, which although less violent than the floods of June 23 have been equally devastating for countless West Virginians.
How can we be so optimistic? Because we know these places, and we know these people.
For the source of our faith, you need look no further than right into the heart of the tragedy.
The small town of Alderson on the border of Greenbrier and Monroe counties suffered some of the worst flooding in the region. Among the many homes and businesses damaged by flood waters was a small building on West Riverview Avenue that is home to the Alderson Green Grocer.
Rising water from the nearby Greenbrier River swept through the little grocery store, damaging equipment and ruining stock. Following a predetermined flood response plan, volunteers worked nonstop to protect the business. If not for their remarkable intervention, the damage would have been far worse. The Green Grocer is not unique in this.
But the Green Grocer is a powerful example of the kind of locally-driven creation and reinvention we know West Virginians are capable of, and we think it is the key to a longer term recovery.
For it was just a little over a year ago that the Green Grocer was nothing more than a small town’s big idea.
When Alderson’s only local grocer closed in 2015, the community decided it would start its own. And so it built upon a grassroots co-op model, raised $31,000 through a crowdfunding campaign, and turned its big idea into a grand reality.
The community was faced with a challenge, they came together, set a goal and took the steps they needed to achieve that goal. And what they were able to do made a huge impact on their town.
The creation of the Alderson Green Grocer last year in every way fits the definition of rebuilding, and it is by following in these same footsteps – local cooperation, goal setting, and a willingness to think beyond existing constraints – that we aim to help the communities that have been so hurt by the flood imagine a new future for themselves and make it real.
Belief in your own ability to change your surroundings is a powerful thing, and possibly the most important ingredient in successful community development.
Though it may not appear so now, and there are more days of grief to come, by our measure West Virginian communities like Alderson are well-placed to rise once again.