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How one 15-year-old is helping West Virginia flood victims

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Marcus Constantino/Reuters

(Read caption) Emma Allen (center) and James Allen look at the remnants of their home with Pauline Stanley, after flooding damage in Clendenin, W.Va., June 26, 2016.

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Kaitlyn Hoffman, a sophomore from Berkeley Springs High School in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., has reached out to help the flood victims in southern West Virginia.

Kaitlyn, 15, said as soon as she heard of the devastation that the people in the southern part of the state had experienced last month, she knew she wanted to jump into action to lend a hand in any way she could. She enlisted the help of her father, Jay, to get the project off the ground.

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"I saw it on the news and I just thought it was so awful. My dad was at work Friday morning and so I called him and said, 'Dad, I want to help. I want to do something and just get out there and help people.' He said, 'OK, I'll cover the logistics part of it. You just do your thing,'" Kaitlyn said.

First, she organized a place to use as a donation drop-off site, which ended up being the gymnasium of the local high school.

Kaitlyn said she then took to Facebook to bring awareness to the community and even used it to reach out to local businesses for help.

"I was trying to use Facebook as a more positive thing since it's so negative these days," Kaitlyn said. "And all the local businesses were so, so generous."

Kaitlyn started collecting non-perishable items, cleaning supplies, and hygiene products, among other things, to take to those in need.

What started as a seemingly small project ended up turning into something bigger than Kaitlyn could have ever imagined. She said the community's support was amazing and that Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh offered to help once he heard what she was doing.

"It originally was supposed to be me, my dad and then the sheriff, taking his truck down with the smaller trailer with us. But it turned out once it was all said and done that the trailer ... managed to hold only half of our paper products to donate," Kaitlyn said.

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Kaitlyn said she had enough donations to load up the small trailer plus a 53-foot tractor-trailer, full of items for the flood victims.

Jay said the tractor-trailer was donated by a local trucking company and that it was packed to the brim within days.

Kaitlyn said they took the items down to Clay County and what she saw broke her heart.

"We saw major rock slides; we saw the river down there and it was so high that it was wider than this gym right now.... We also saw a lot of bridges collapsed, houses demolished. And we weren't even allowed to go to the bad part of it all," she said.

Kaitlyn said she visited a fire station in Lizemores that said it was trying to help residents get back on their feet.

Sheriff Shambaugh said what Kaitlyn is doing is great and that she was the "brainchild" behind the whole idea.

Kaitlyn, however, said she isn't doing anything special.

"I am really just here to help and that's it, nothing more. These people need our help and I want to do it in any way I possibly can," Kaitlyn said. "Like my parents say, it only takes one person to start something," Kaitlyn said.

"And I think what really got me started was when my dad took me down to help the people affected by Hurricane Katrina. I was about seven and the local radio station was looking for volunteers to go down and help. I took a day off school, he took a day off work and I was just so happy to be down there and helping people," she added.

Jay said Kaitlyn has continued helping the community.

"Ever since then it's been, 'Hey Dad, let's go do this. Let's go help somehow,' " he said.

Kaitlyn said she is very thankful for the outpouring of support she has received from her community. She said it says a lot about the area.

"We may be a small town but people really know how to come together and step up. The power of West Virginians is something great. It is really special. I'm thankful to be in a community like this," Kaitlyn said.

Kaitlyn plans to continue her efforts and organize more fundraisers within the next couple of weeks. She and her father want to have a furniture drive once the clean-up efforts are near completion.


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