Baptists gear up to 500,000 meals a day

HOUSTON (BP)--About 1,500 Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers are setting up units in Texas and were expected to be operational by the end of the day Tuesday to serve victims of Hurricane Ike. The primary focus of the efforts currently is food preparation, with 39 kitchen units on site in the state.

The American Red Cross has asked Southern Baptists to be ready to prepare up to 375,000 hot meals a day, while the Salvation Army has requested 125,000 meals a day, bringing the total to 500,000.

In addition to the 39 feeding units, more than 40 other types of Southern Baptist disaster relief units are arriving in the devastated areas as well. These include shower, laundry, communications and chainsaw units.

"Right now with so many people without power, priority is preparing hot meals for the victims," said Mickey Caison, operations director at the North American Mission Board's disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga. "As the days and weeks unfold and the power returns, we will shift to a focus on recovery." Those efforts will include tree removal, tarping damaged roofs and removing mud and other debris from flooded homes.

Communities pounded by Hurricane Ike last weekend continue to experience a major infrastructure crisis of water, sewage, electricity and fuel supplies. Even gas stations that have fuel are unable to sell it without power. Residents, unable to heat or cool food, are limited to canned items and what they obtain from charitable groups.

"These kinds of issues are the reason we have trained our units to go into an area and be self-sustaining," Caison said. "We have our own fuel. We bring in large tanks of water and have the ability to purify water. We bring generators."

Caison said many of the kitchen units will serve members of the community as individuals drive up in their cars to get meals. Other meals will be distributed by the American Red Cross as they transport them to serving sites or take them into individual neighborhoods.

Five Southern Baptist units remain stationed at evacuation shelters throughout Texas. Caison said the number of evacuees has remained steady as some return to their homes but others show up after running out of money for hotels. Plans to require additional evacuations from Galveston may soon add to the numbers at evacuation centers.

"In the midst of all of this we have the continued ministry of our chaplains," Caison said. "We need to continue to pray that they will have opportunity to meet spiritual needs while our volunteers minister to physical needs."

Baptist relief efforts continue in Louisiana as well, with 81 units still serving there. Caison said feeding operations are scaling back in that state, but chainsaw and flood recovery activities remain a high priority.


Mike Ebert is publications and media relations coordinator for the North American Mission Board. To donate to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, phone toll-free 866-407-6262 or visit www.namb.net.