700 Baptist volunteers at work, sent by 25 state conventions
EDISON, N.J. (BP) -- "We've faced some tremendous challenges, but we are still serving people despite it all," said Karen Smith, a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leader serving with her Kentucky feeding kitchen at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, N.Y.
"This has been an awesome experience," said Smith, whose team was among the first SBDR units deployed in response to Hurricane Sandy. "We've faced obstacles, but we are here serving people in need."
Smith and her crew of 37 fellow Kentuckians have been preparing meals for nearly a week. They supplied 15,000 meals on Sunday, Nov. 4, to be delivered by American Red Cross volunteers into the surrounding community. Smith expected the total to be much higher Monday. Kentucky Kitchen 01 is capable of producing 50,000 meals per day.
Four professions of faith in Christ were reported by volunteers -- two armed services members at a military base and a couple in coastal New Jersey. Members of a Tennessee SBDR team were distributing meals at the base when they were able to share the Gospel with the servicemen.
In Little Egg Harbor, N.J., a South Carolina recovery crisis intervention team was canvassing a neighborhood, South Carolina disaster relief director Cliff Satterwhite recounted. Two male members of the team led the husband to faith in Christ at the front door of the home while two female members shared the Gospel with the wife in the backyard.
As more SBDR volunteers arrived in the affected areas over the weekend, plans were developing for the transition to recovery work, primarily chain saw, mud-out and clean-up. And with a predicted nor'easter on its way to the region, a tremendous amount of work is yet to be done, according to SBDR leaders. Forecasts called for freeze advisories Monday night and warned of winds from 20-30 mph and up to three inches of rain when the storm was expected to come through Wednesday.
SBDR leaders cautioned against sending donations of supplies or collected items to the affected areas. Active recovery will be ongoing for some time, leaders said, noting that the best way to help is to continue to pray and to give support financially.
Just over 700 SBDR volunteers from 25 state conventions and Canada are involved in the response. Area command for the response also shifted from Harrisburg, Pa., to Edison, N.J., and the Raritan Valley Baptist Church. A North American Mission Board mobile command unit is on site at the church, which housed more than 100 SBDR volunteers Sunday night.
NAMB DR executive director Fritz Wilson said the anticipated need for feeding in the New York City area decreased dramatically in 24 hours. As a result, some SBDR mobile feeding kitchens that were traveling, but had not arrived, were asked to return home.
But feeding continued in New York, New Jersey and West Virginia on Sunday. In West Virginia, meanwhile, the Baptist General Convention of Virginia and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia kitchens had prepared more than 3,000 meals by Sunday.
Just under 100,000 meals were prepared by SBDR volunteers at the New Jersey and New York sites Sunday, including Staten island, Aqueduct Racetrack, Deer Park and Rockaway in New York, and in New Brunswick, Hammonton, Tom's River, Waretown, and on the campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Area response commander Mark Gauthier said SBDR volunteers were serving at 16 feeding locations Monday from West Virginia to Long Island with a meal capacity of 302,000 per day. Three more mobile kitchens were awaiting possible deployment Tuesday.
Oklahoma DR director Sam Porter reported that one Oklahoma volunteer had a heart attack while en route in Pennsylvania early Saturday. The volunteer was in stable condition at Memorial Hospital in Johnstown, Pa., Monday. Porter said the Oklahoma Baptist Convention plans to send the man, and his wife who arrived Sunday, home by air. Another volunteer remained at the hospital with the man while the team continued to New Jersey.
Responding state Baptist conventions now include Alabama, Arkansas, Baptist General Association of Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland-Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New England, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania-South Jersey, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, Southern Baptists of Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Also responding are volunteers from Canada, North Carolina Baptist Men and Texas Baptist Men.
And more volunteers arrived to work with the Kentucky feeding team at Aqueduct on Monday. New volunteers included nine from Canada, six from Ohio and 10 from Mississippi.
"We're here for the long haul," said Karen Smith, an SBDR volunteer for 20 years. She and her team also were among the first to respond to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, serving in Clinton, Miss. "We are first responders and we stay until the work is complete. I will be here until we shut down."
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or, via the Web, contribute to NAMB's disaster relief fund at namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.