Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief (ABDR) volunteers are serving meals, clearing trees and covering roofs as Florida continues to recover after Hurricane Irma.
“Our effort is set up and running, and our teams are staying busy,” said Mark Wakefield, disaster relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). “Hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours have been put in for us to be able to do the recovery work that’s being done.”
Assessment and administration teams from Alabama have been working since Sept. 13 to set up a command center at McGregor Baptist Church, Fort Myers, Florida. Eleven ABDR teams were working in Lee, Hendry and Charlotte counties as of Sept. 20 and more are scheduled to relieve those teams in the weeks ahead. The effort will go on as long as ABDR teams can be helpful, Wakefield said.
Need for volunteers
“We will be here as long as we can and as long as volunteers can come,” he said.
Christina Morgan, ABDR state administration coordinator and a member of First Baptist Church, Prattville, in Autauga Baptist Association, said ABDR has received more than 250 calls from people requesting assistance. Many area residents were still without power and food and many simply needed a listening ear, she said.
“Many don’t have any physical needs but they are suffering from post-traumatic stress. Our chaplains have visited shelters and given comfort to many and we’ve had at least one salvation reported every day we’ve been at work,” Morgan said.
In addition to tree clearing, roof covering and mudout work, ABDR volunteers are operating a mass feeding unit in Fort Myers. Wakefield said the need for meals had increased in the first full week of relief work, with 7,000–11,000 meals served daily. He praised the volunteers for their hard work, which happens under a tent that can reach up to 120 degrees when the ovens are running full force.
“We couldn’t do this without the committed volunteers,” he said. “Just to put out that number of meals every day requires people who are trained and can work together as a team. They are committed to the Lord and to helping people, and we couldn’t do it without them.”
In addition to the mass feeding unit, smaller units are supplying food for workers. Laundry and shower units also are set up to serve ABDR volunteers.
As floodwaters receded, teams discovered some residents who had been spared flooding in their homes but had been cut off from their community by flooding on local roads. One of those residents was a Vietnam veteran whose house trailer had been destroyed. The man was living in a camping trailer on his property and a pine tree was precariously close to falling on that second home. The man told volunteers, “It’s the only place I’ve got to live.” A chainsaw team came back the next day to get the tree away from his camper. They brought the man more water and a chaplain was scheduled to visit as well.
Wakefield also noted that teams from Covington Baptist Association and Elmore Baptist Association assisted in cleanup work at Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana in Fort Myers on Sept. 14, allowing the Hispanic congregation to have worship the following Sunday.
Rick Lance, SBOM executive director, asked Alabama Baptists to continue to pray for ABDR workers as they serve, especially for the nearly 400 newly trained “yellow shirts” who will be serving for the first time. He also encouraged continued giving to hurricane relief at sbdr.org, noting that all donations will go directly toward relief efforts to help people in areas impacted by the storms.
Ken Conaway, an administration team member from First Baptist, Wedowee, in Randolph Baptist Association, noted many local residents will need help from missions teams once the relief phase is complete.
“Our teams are going to be able to remove trees and maybe put a tarp over the damaged roof, but the need for a new roof is going to be there long after we leave,” he said.
Matching federal disaster aid
Though they don’t do it for financial reasons, faith-based volunteers’ hours have financial benefit in the communities they serve. USA Today recently noted that 75 percent of members of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, an alliance of volunteer organizations that assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in disaster recovery, are faith-based.
According to FEMA guidelines, states must “match” federal disaster aid. Volunteer hours are valued at $25 per hour and count toward the state match.
“FEMA cannot do what it does so well without the cooperation of faith-based nonprofit organizations and churches,” Jamie Johnson, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, told USA Today. “It’s a beautiful relationship between government and the private sector and it is something to behold.”
Etowah Association ministry assistant shares about personal impact of SBDR
By Emily Hamilton
Etowah Baptist Association
If you had asked me years ago what my opinion of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) was, I might have been able to tell you that they were the men who wore the yellow shirts. I had seen offering envelopes and promotional pieces throughout my childhood every now and then. I never knew how profound the impact would become in my own life. Living in central Mississippi, I had my first taste of SBDR in August of 2005 when our entire state was impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
When Katrina made landfall in my small hometown, it was still a category-5 strength hurricane, causing spin-off tornadoes that destroyed surrounding towns. Not being from a coastal region, we had no idea what to do. School was out for weeks while power was being restored. It was then that I first saw the folks in yellow in action.
Again in the spring of 2011, a band of tornadoes (with which Alabamians also are familiar) ripped through my small college town. For the first time, I was able to see hands-on the ministry of an SBDR team. My church became disaster relief headquarters and college students were called upon to help set up housing and maintain other facility issues so that those hard-working men and women in yellow could again spring into action. I heard stories of families who had lost everything that were able to sit and pray with a SBDR chaplain as a chainsaw team removed trees off of their house and tarped their roof.
When I moved to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2012, seven years after Katrina, SBDR still had a presence on our campus. Buildings were slowly being rebuilt as money was made available. Those yellow trailers in the apartment parking lot were a reminder to me that many had sacrificed to provide relief to the friends, faculty and campus I would grow to love.
Hands and feet
Once more, just last year, I was able to volunteer with NAMB Relief. This time I was able to take college students to Baton Rouge and gut houses that had been flooded. Sitting with different families and hearing their stories of watching their entire lives fill up with water is an experience I will never forget.
There is so much I could tell you about SBDR. I could spend the entire newspaper explaining to you how detailed and strategic they are or tell story after story of people affected by their ministry. However, I will simply say this: to support SBDR work is to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Editor’s Note — Emily Hamilton serves as ministry assistant in church and missions development at the Etowah Baptist Association.