Regardless of how ready you may feel for the worst, nothing can perhaps fully prepare you for the effects of a natural disaster. The unfortunate people of the Carolinas may well be able to attest to that, as they faced down Hurricane Florence in September 2018. However, when North Carolina resident Shelli Tench looked to help those in need, she was left stunned by a Walmart manager’s incredible gesture.
Since the summer of 2017, the U.S. has been hit by a number of significant storms following a relatively quiet period for extreme weather. In fact, after a nightmarish few months in 2005 that saw four Category 3 storms reach the mainland, another of equivalent power didn’t come for 11 years.
However, the Category 4 Hurricane Matthew left its mark in October 2016, and the U.S. faced three monstrous storms the following year – starting with Hurricane Harvey. A Category 4 storm, Harvey reached land in August 2017, with the residents of Texas and Louisiana bearing the brunt. And in just under a week, Harvey caused incredible damage in those two states.
In fact, over 100 people lost their lives during Hurricane Harvey, while more than 200,000 buildings were ruined or damaged. As a result, repair costs reached around $125 billion, making Harvey one of the most expensive storms in American history – behind only Hurricane Katrina.
After Harvey had eventually dispersed, Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September 2017. Irma was a Category 5 storm with even faster wind speeds, though, and it left the Sunshine State devastated. Along the way, Irma also made history – although not for anything particularly pleasant.
You see, at one point, Irma’s winds blew at an astonishing 185 mph. That momentum was maintained for 37 hours, which in turn created a new record. And as a result of such conditions, over $50 billion was spent on cleaning up the damage throughout Florida. Irma wasn’t to be the last big storm of that year in the U.S., however.
Only ten days after Irma had made landfall in Florida, Hurricane Maria then hit the American territory of Puerto Rico. Another Category 4 storm, Maria caused unprecedented destruction on the island, with the death toll there reaching an estimate of just under 3,000 people.
Following Maria’s dispersal, the University of Delaware’s Tricia Wachtendorf gave some insight into the devastation that the hurricane had caused on the island. “Most, if not all, of the built environment is destroyed,” the sociology professor told The Atlantic in 2017.
“It’s very difficult to navigate the impact zone – to know which roads are open and to know what to detour around,” Wachtendorf continued. “It’s extremely difficult to pre-position supplies, because if you have any supplies pre-positioned they might have been destroyed. You have [local] officials that are unable to take their usual roles on.”
Then, after the devastation of those three natural disasters in 2017, America was hit by another Category 4 storm in October 2018. Hurricane Michael arrived at Florida’s Panhandle with winds reaching over 150 mph; to date, Michael is the strongest weather phenomenon of its kind that the region has faced since records began.
With Florida residents still reeling, Michael eventually moved up to Georgia, by which time it had been downgraded to a Category 3 storm. From there, the hurricane continued to travel over into the Carolinas before moving through Virginia and then heading back out into the ocean.
The hurricane caused close to 50 deaths during that period, with damage costs expected to be $25 billion at a minimum. “Michael is a traditional hurricane event where the most intense damage is in a narrow swath along the coast and along the track of the storm,” Chuck Watson, an employee at a Georgia research station, told Bloomberg in October 2018. “[It’s] caused by either wind, waves or storm surge.”
However, while residents of the Florida Panhandle were left picking up the pieces after Michael, those living in the Carolinas faced a somewhat different struggle. Upon the storm’s arrival in that area, people were in fact still dealing with the aftermath of another hurricane that had occurred the month before.
In September 2018 the Carolinas were hit by Hurricane Florence – a Category 1 storm that had been degraded from a Category 4. And when it hit North Carolina, the hurricane brought winds of almost 90 mph. At the end of the first day, though, Florence had faded somewhat to tropical storm status.
But even despite that reclassification, Florence still caused flooding throughout North Carolina and, as a result, made some 1,200 roads impassable in the state. Then, four days after the storm had made land, Florence was demoted again to a post-tropical cyclone; at that point, however, the damage had already been done.
Indeed, it’s reckoned that Hurricane Florence caused around $13 billion in repair costs, while more than one and a half million people were forced to evacuate their homes. Fortunately, several North Carolina high schools opened their doors to those in need of shelter during the storm.
According to the Governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, there were over 12,000 people in more than 120 shelters ahead of the hurricane. Some of those locations, including Garner Magnet High School, had become havens for the residents evacuating their homes on the coast.
As for the rest of the Carolinas, the volunteers of the American Red Cross looked to help out as best they could. “We want people to know they have a place, have a roof over their heads,” spokesman Cuthbert Langley told HuffPost in September 2018.
“We’re working with our partners to provide food, water and snacks,” Langley continued. “We’re really just here to provide an escape from the storm. [And] we’re all gonna get through this together.” On that note, he then encouraged other people to help those in the shelters in any way that they could.
And Shelli Tench was looking to do her part as she visited Garner Magnet High School’s shelter. A resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, she arrived with a number of supplies for the evacuees and a simple question. The resulting answer to that query then kicked off a remarkable chain of events.
“While I was [at the shelter], I asked [people what] their greatest need was. And their response was, ‘T-shirts,’” Tench wrote on Facebook in September 2018. “‘We have people coming from all over, and we can offer them hot showers, but we don’t have clean clothes for them. So, we need T-shirts and underwear.’”
Now fully aware of the situation, Tench headed back out to one of the local stores – although she was conscious of her limited budget. “I had $50 that I could spend, so I headed to the only store open: Walmart Garner,” Tench continued on Facebook. “[I] went in and [asked] for a manager, hoping he would give me some kind of discount to make that money go further.”
However, not even Tench could have predicted the store manager’s response. “When Jeff Jobes, the manager on duty, heard about the plight of the people at the shelter, he didn’t give me a discount,” Tench later wrote. “Instead, he armed me with one of his associates… and a shopping cart and told her to fill it…on him.”
Surprisingly, Jobes looked to foot the bill for Tench’s emergency shopping spree. And the manager would explain why he had decided to help, too. “We knew we had to do more than [give a discount] for 400 people [staying at the shelter],” he told Durham-based ABC affiliate WTVD in September 2018.
“We knew we had to go above and beyond,” Jobes continued. “If you really go back to Walmart and the Sam Walton days, that’s really what Walmart was all about. It’s how I’ve been raised all throughout the company.” And on Facebook, Tench had detailed just how far Jobes’ generosity had gone.
After initially arriving at the store with just $50 to spend, Tench found that she had been given a lot for her cash. “Y’all… $1,251 later, I was able to deliver 254 items of clothing to the evacuees at the Garner High shelter because Jeff the manager loves his community, and he proved it with his actions,” she wrote on Facebook.
“This is what love looks like,” Tench continued. “This is what community looks like, [and] this is what selflessness looks like.” From there, the Raleigh resident had a request of her own for users on the social media website: she asked if they could make her post go viral.
“Jeff deserves to be recognized for his example of honor, integrity and community compassion,” Tench added. “To Jeff and the Walmart [in] Garner, North Carolina, you have my loyalty and my business from this day forward.” She then finished her post by urging the store to give him a raise.
And Tench’s post did indeed go viral on Facebook. In fact, her words earned over 45,000 likes as well as close to 50,000 shares on the social media website. The post generated a number of positive comments, too, with people hailing Jobes’ generous actions.
“How wonderful,” wrote Facebook user Meredith Ann Murray in the comments section, for instance. “This is [why] we are all here – to help one another and love one another! Thank you so much for sharing the story of his generosity with us – and yours.”
Those words were echoed by fellow Facebook user Stacey Sherman, who also reserved some special praise for Tench. “That is soooo FABULOUS!” Sherman wrote. “Big [kudos] to them, but also to you for going out in this weather and taking the extra steps to help.”
However, while people online continued to respond to Tench’s post, the uplifting story was far from over. As it turned out, Jobes had yet more to give to the evacuees at the high school shelter, and he subsequently got in touch with his new friend from Raleigh.
“I woke up this morning to this text from [Walmart] manager Jeff: ‘How is everything this morning? Need anything?’” Tench wrote in another Facebook post. “So, I drove to the shelter and [asked] them what they needed. They gave me a list [including] fresh fruit for snacks, Ensure, Boost and Gatorade.”
At that point, then, Tench texted the list of supplies that the shelter needed to Jobes, who responded, “Give me 30 minutes, then come see me.” And so she went back to Walmart to meet with the manager again – only to be shocked by the sight that greeted her.
“When I got to the store, manager Jeff and his co-manager Kelly were busy pulling together the items that were requested,” Tench continued on Facebook. “They didn’t donate bags of fresh fruit. They donated case after case after case after case of apples and oranges and bananas and Ensure and Boost and Gatorade and Cliff bars and pastries and bread and cookies.”
Stunned by the generosity on show, Tench hailed Jobes and his staff once again, reaffirming the sentiments of her previous Facebook post in the process. “My van was loaded to the top,” she wrote. “The outpouring of love and support from the Walmart in Garner is unbelievable.”
“People may say a lot of negative things about Walmart. But I’m here to tell you this right now,” Tench continued. “The staff at this store are #worldchangers. Keep liking and sharing the posts about their acts of kindness. They deserve all of the love and kudos they can get.”
Unsurprisingly, Tench’s follow-up message received another big response on Facebook: close to 5,000 likes and over 3,000 shares, in fact. The post also generated various other comments – many of which emphasized just how incredible Jobes’ actions were.
Meanwhile, Jobes explained his reasoning for helping Tench and the evacuees during their time of need. “It definitely gets our name out there that we’re here to help in our communities,” he told WTVD. “Whether it’s hot food at our deli, baby food [or] diapers – that’s why we’re here and what we fight for.”
And as the praise continued to flood in for the Walmart manager, Tench then returned to her earlier request. “Hashtag get Jeff a raise!” she said to WTVD. “It’s going viral – it’s fantastic. We have our college rivalries, and we have our things. But when it comes down to a crisis, we pull together. We are one family.”