Hurricane Matthew Volunteers Put Their Lives on Hold to Serve

“The hardest part is getting out of bed the first time.”

Longtime disaster volunteer and retired veteran Patricia Link wakes up at 6 a.m. in a motel far from home. She gathers herself, climbs out of bed and prepares for a 14-hour day of shopping, chopping, prepping, cooking and serving 500 meals to residents of Hatteras, on the outer banks of North Carolina who lack power, or water, or food in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

She will do this for 14 consecutive days, without compensation, not seeking recognition, not always receiving a word of thanks.

“It’s a very hard thing to put my life on hold,” she said. “We do this because people need our help.”

Link, along with her husband, led the Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services team from the Virginia Peninsula Area Command, one of many commands throughout the Southern Territory to send teams of officers, employees and volunteers to the east coast of North Carolina, Georgia and Florida to assist local officers in serving their communities.

“I started volunteering with The Salvation Army when I was working at NASA,” she recalled. “I was a member of the association of government accountants and one of their community services was filling stockings.”

That was 18 years ago. Link and her husband soon began volunteering to count kettle donations in the evenings. It was during this first kettle season when destructive tornados hit the nearby town of Suffolk and she was asked to join the team serving first responders.

She has served in the aftermath of many disasters since, including Hurricane Ike and the West Virginia flooding in June.

“We are the generation of love and we are doing this for love,” she said. “We love our neighbors and we want to help them when we can. We wish more people would feel this way.”

In fact, many more people felt the same way and put their lives on hold to serve. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, 93 canteens were deployed across four states, serving 178,613 meals, providing 7,337 people with emotional and spiritual support and more than 30, 358 total hours of employee and volunteer service.

Link and her team serve three meals each day and much of her time is spent in the mobile kitchen. In there, she said, it’s easy to get caught up in the motions and the busyness of it all and forget the people you are serving.

“You get in production mode and it’s hard to remember to be nice, she said. “When I can get out of the kitchen and talk to people, they just hug you and start crying on your shoulder. They don’t want the people they are taking care of to see them in this state; they need a stranger they can relax and talk to.”

Members of the cabinet joined dedicated volunteers, like Link, on Oct. 12, visiting disaster sites and assisting with relief efforts, to show support, unity and gratitude.

“We wanted to come out and visit just to say thank you to the relief workers, officers and volunteers, and to express, on behalf of the territory, how much we appreciate the work that is being done,” Lt. Colonel William Mockabee said while on a site visit in Savannah, Ga.

“It’s all about helping people, it’s all about being compassionate, being moved towards people who find themselves in need.”

It’s the people in need who so often inspire and encourage Link, when the days are long and the work is hard.

“You are so exhausted, so emotionally drained but you get to meet the people,” she said. “You fall in love with the people, you do what you can and then you go home. You know that they need so much more but you just can’t do anymore. The hardest part is going home.”