In the past week since extreme flooding from heavy rains devastated towns across West Virginia, Jim Monroe, owner of Greenbrier Nurseries, a grower-retailer in Virginia and West Virginia, has led a relief effort that has collected donations from places as far as Texas and Canada.
It all started June 23, when he posted a call out on Facebook to fans of his weekly Farm to Table Roanoke, a weekly, year-round farmers market that was the focus of an article Garden Center magazine published about Greenbrier in March. He asked customers to help with flood relief efforts by bringing in donations.
In less than a week, Monroe, his team and volunteers sent 24 box trucks filled with bottled water, trash bags, mops, bleach, buckets, diapers, paper goods and other donated supplies to the most hard-hit places, including White Sulfur Springs, Covington, Rainelle and Callahan. In just three days, 47 people raised $6,370 (and counting) on a GoFundMe account Monroe set up as of press time. Companies offered up their trucks, including Black Dog Salvage, and the Roanoke Target and FedEx.
“It’s the power of social media,” says Monroe, who also posted updates on his Greenbrier Nurseries Facebook page. “It’s just so amazing that you can impact people so fast. Thousands and thousands of cases of water, and I couldn’t even tell you how many bottles of bleach and buckets, food and bottled water, it’s just unreal.”
When Monroe reached out to Garden Center magazine to tell us about the incredible support he's receiving from the community, we asked if he was impacted. “We had some water in our office, but nothing compared to what other people are dealing with," he says. "We had a few employees who were displaced, but everybody is OK.”
Rushing waters carried cars and even homes away, and Monroe says the devastation is hard to describe. One meteorologist called it “A 1-in-1,000-year storm,” as at least 9 inches of rain fell in 36 hours in parts of Greenbrier County, according to an article in The Herald Dispatch. At least 25 people were killed in the storm, and others remain missing.
“It’s Hurricane Katrina. There are [thousands of] people who have lost their houses, and deaths and people missing,” he says. “I couldn’t tell you the amount of dead pets and dead livestock. It’s just unbelievable.”
What else was unbelievable to Monroe is the support that poured in not only locally from customers and businesses, but across the country. He says at least a dozen independent garden centers raised or contributed money, and quickly.
“The story that I think is really amazing is that I have this double-dog secret Facebook page where there is no media or suppliers, just garden center owners. I was telling people about the outpouring of support we’ve had from our customers. Yesterday (June 28,) we had people bring in checks and stick them in a mason jar on the counter that says ‘flood donation.’ We added it up last night, and there must be $8,000 worth of checks,” Monroe says. “So I was just telling people that [on Facebook], and talking about how great it was. The first person to do something was Tina Bemis [of Bemis Farms Nursery in Spencer, Mass.] She had a sale one day … she had customers make donations and sent me $1,600.”
“Since last week, [Monroe] has been receiving and trucking supplies to the worst of the towns hit nearby,” Distinctive Gardens wrote. “He’s not able to focus on his business at the moment. It’s all about helping his community.”
That's certainly clear from a recent post on his Facebook page:
"With the cancellation of The Greenbrier Classic, we had a major order cancelled for beautiful plants for the tents and luxury boxes... We will have them for sale this weekend... Part of sales will go to #helpwv. Help us recoup our cost and help others at the same time!"
Monroe talked about businesses and volunteers who have chipped in, though, focusing on others, naming garden centers in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, British Columbia and Texas.
“It’s just unreal. We’ve literally, just from little independent garden centers, probably collected $10,000 [in cash] from independents across the country who don’t have any reason to do this other than the fact they are good people,” he says. “It tells you a lot about the industry we’re in.”
Monroe estimates they have raised more than $100,000 in supplies, checks and cash so far.
“It’s just an amazing thing people who have reached out to do what they’ve done, how our retail customers have responded.”
To learn more about how you can help, visit Farm to Table Roanoke’s Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of Farm to Table Roanoke's Facebook page.This article has been updated. Bemis Farms Nursery donated not nearly $1,000, but $1,600.