Divya and Terry McArthur got more than they bargained for at a taping of The Tonight Show on Tuesday.
Host Jimmy Fallon surprised the unsuspecting couple, whose North Carolina home was devastated by two hurricanes — Matthew and Florence — in the past two years, with a gift from The Home Depot Foundation and Operation Blessing. The organizations teamed up to completely renovate the couple’s house.
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“I heard him, but I didn’t really grasp it because I was really in shock,” Divya McArthur tells PEOPLE exclusively of the experience. “You see things like this on TV, but you never expect for it to happen to you. It feels like a dream. Our lives will never be the same.”
The home has particular sentimental value to Divya, as it was passed down to her by her grandmother, who built it in the 1970s.
“I’ve been asked by people who are close to me, ‘Why would you go back?’” Divya says. “Because it’s my home. I grew up in this house. My grandmother left it to me. She put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this house. I’m emotionally tied to it, but it’s also an obligation.”
The McArthurs lost their furniture and appliances, and experienced damage to their floors, walls and roof due to the flooding caused by the storms and did not have flood insurance.
“I can’t think about the flood and not think about things that I had, like my wedding gown, our wedding album,” Divya says. “It was devastating, to say the least. Matthew caught us by surprise with the flooding. We were told that this wouldn’t happen again for 500 years. We did some preventative measures. You kind of hunker down before a storm, but never did we think that there would be water back in our house. Not 22 months after another storm.”
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Divya, who owns a salon in downtown Lumberton, says that she and her husband, Terry, a corrections officer, have tried to maintain a sense of normalcy for their twelve-year-old son, Christian, despite their circumstances.
“I was sad and I was angry, but it takes more energy to be sad than it does to be happy,” Divya tells PEOPLE. “I decided that I was not gonna allow this to break me. We have a son, and he’s watching us. I want things to be as normal as possible for him. I’d like to think I don’t have any enemies, but I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. It will shake your foundation. Literally.”
The McArthur family’s predicament was brought to the attention to The Home Depot Foundation and their nonprofit partner Operation Blessing after Hurricane Florence. The organizations have teamed up to replace the roof, repaint the house and provide a new furnace (the McArthur’s have been without one since 2016). They will also provide appliances, refurnish the house and make over the backyard.
“We’re helping make the repairs to not only make the house again, but make it a home for the McArthurs,” Shannon Gerber, Executive Director of The Home Depot Foundation tells PEOPLE.
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The foundation, along with a 400,000-strong associate-led volunteer force, have committed $5 million to disaster relief in 2018 alone.
“This has allowed me to see that even with the headlines today, there is still hope for us,” Divya says. “There are still those that have their heart for other people.”
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