When electric cooperative lineworkers perform storm recovery and restoration work, everything the public sees as they work to restore power is supported by co-op staff behind the scenes.

After Hurricane Florence swept through the Carolinas in September, a member services representative from Tideland Electric Membership Corp. came up with a way to recognize those who do the unseen work of fielding member calls and providing updates on outages and restoration work.

"We all have a lot of T-shirts from past storms that feature linemen on poles," said Linda Carawan, a customer service leader for Pantego, North Carolina-based Tideland EMC. "Getting the lights back on takes a lot of work and that includes being available to talk to members when they need us most."

Carawan came up with a T-shirt bearing the message "Storm Hair Don't Care." It's based upon a storm duty experience many co-op member services representatives and call center operators know all too well.

"During storm duty, a ball cap or dry shampoo can be a girl's best friend," said Carawan. "We're working long hours on the telephones and some of us actually live in the call centers until all major power restoration work is complete. Many are us also were tapped for additional duties like crew meal preparation."

Managers at Tideland EMC have been working with staff on ways to help families and organizations in the co-op's service territory recover from the hurricane and subsequent flooding that took place after Florence. The need became even more crucial when remnants of Hurricane Michael swept through the same area less than a month later.

That led to a fundraiser put together under the banner of the Tideland Electric Care Trust, with the shirts on sale for $25 each. The co-op hopes to sell at least 1,000 of the shirts and believes many others will appreciate the message.

"There are thousands of dispatchers and member services representatives working at electric co-ops and in public power districts across the country," said Heidi Jernigan Smith, manager of marketing and corporate communications at Tideland EMC.

"This is an experience so many of us share, but it's really part of the job," said Smith. "We're hoping to raise a lot of money to help people who are still recovering from the storm."

While storm T-shirts featuring lineworkers are generally specific to the hurricane, tornado, blizzard or ice storm event that inspire them, the Tideland shirts salute the overall concept.

As a nod to fashion, they come in four different colors and designs.

"Major storms are never a one-day event, but we think the shirts capture the mood a lot of us have shared on about day five," said Smith. "Having a couple of these in the drawer might bring on a smile when you really need it."

Online sales will end Nov. 15. Once the total contribution amount is tallied, Tideland EMC will work with the TECT board to identify and fund specific community needs.

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