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Editorial: Heartened by community’s kindness toward strangers

They arrived in Ridgeland on their way back to Orlando, Tampa, Miami and all parts of Florida. They were tired and hungry, and their dogs needed to stretch.

Thousands of people fled their homes ahead of Hurricane Irma, and many headed back south last week not knowing if they’d have electricity, water or if their homes still stood.

We were fortunate not to suffer a direct hit from the hurricane, but that didn’t stop the community from taking action to help others.

Led by the benevolence of Rhonda Lowther, Regina Webster and Joyce Sapp, weary southbound travelers were invited last Wednesday to visit the Farmers Market on Jacob Smart Boulevard, and enjoy complimentary snacks and water, and get a chance to take a break from the hours-long drive on Interstate 95. Lowther estimates about 100 people stopped by the market and hundreds also grabbed water from Shannon Tanner, who stood at Exit 21 and also happily offered dog treats and directions.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to help other people,” Lowther said.

Last week, we expressed confidence that the county would be there for each other if the storm caused devastating damage, so we weren’t surprised to learn a volunteer group was jumping at the chance to help motorists on their way home.

For several days before the storm, we witnessed car after car drive north through the county, filling up the highway and U.S. 17. We knew the return traffic after the hurricane would be just as voluminous. But instead of passively watching the cars crawl southbound, the community decided to offer a helping hand.

Lowther’s team garnered hundreds of cases of water, and there was an abundance of snacks and homemade goods, such as cookies and Rice Krispie Treats.

The group heard stories from families unsure of the status of their homes, and one woman in her 20s who had recently left conflict-stricken Venezuela and was going back to Tampa not knowing what she was going to face in the storm’s aftermath.

“That young girl tugged at my heart,” Lowther said.

Hardeeville also rallied support as Katrina Ford and Bruce Armstrong of Blackdream Restaurant and Lounge planned to bring donated supplies to Jacksonville, Fla., to help those affected by the storm.

“This could have easily happened to us or even Savannah and I believe other cities would help us out as well,” Ford said.

We are heartened by the community’s willingness to help others. It would have been easy to rest after the storm, but the county saw the destruction caused in other parts of the state and Florida and quickly offered to aid strangers.

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