The community of Carolina Beach showed up in a big way last week to help Max and April Sussman, the owners of The Veggie Wagon, to rebuild their flagship store on South Lake Park Boulevard.
The Sussmans closed the store Sept. 11 after donating as many perishable items as possible to the Carolina Beach Emergency Operations Center. Then they prepared to ride out the storm at their home, just a block away from the market.
When the heaviest rains began to fall, flooding was imminent.
“It was surreal to see something you’ve worked so hard for just fill with water,” Max Sussman said. “And even though we were just a block away, it was three days before we were able to safely assess the damage.”
Sussman said the building sat in about 36 inches of water from Sept. 15 until Sept. 18.
When they were finally able to enter, they found all the coolers dead, rotting food and computers knocked over.
“We were overwhelmed with where to start, having never dealt with anything like this before,” Max Sussman said. “But the building was still standing, all our employees were safe, and we still had a roof over our head at home.”
Sussman said that on Wednesday morning, as they struggled to put the pieces back together, help began pouring in. Just one day after re-opening her own business, Island Beverage, Jenny Monk arrived, asking how she could help. She had seen The Veggie Wagon’s posts on Facebook and although she did not know Max or April, she was compelled to lend a hand.
“Our hearts went out to them because they were experiencing every business owners worst nightmare,” Jenny Monk said. “When we evacuated to Georgia, we fully expected that we could be returning to a similar situation. The fact that we were able to return so soon after the storm and didn’t experience any loss or damage left us feeling like we had to give back.”
Soon after Monk arrived, more and more island residents, and even some who were there as part of disaster response teams, offered to pitch in and get the store cleaned up and put back together. Sussman said volunteers with experience in electrical work and general contracting quickly filled the rolls of team managers and worked with remarkable efficiency. Neighbors and local restaurants brought by a steady supply of food and drinks for the volunteers.
“The overall spirit and willingness to help was incredible,” Max Sussman said.
Amazingly, after just six days, The Veggie Wagon was rebuilt and ready to open for business on Monday.
“Veggie Wagon 2.0 is even better than before and it’s all because of the community we live in,” Max Sussman said. “It’s so humbling.”
Meanwhile, when Island Beverage re-opened, the Monks celebrated by selling penny drafts. When customers tried to offer more money, they decided to start collecting donations for storm victims, and within two hours collected $200. Out of gratitude for not suffering any damage, the couple then decided to donate one hundred percent of their sales for the next five days to a fund that will help Carolina Beach residents in need. In all they raised $5,500.
“It really warmed my heart,” Jenny Monk said. “I knew we lived in a supportive community and this shows just now much good can come from neighbors helping neighbors.”
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