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1,200-plus Southern Baptist volunteers now responding with food & compassion in wake of hurricane crisis on Gulf Coast

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Logistical challenges continue to hamper efforts of more than 1,200 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers assisting people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Since Katrina’s devastation is so widespread and affects such a large area of Louisiana and Mississippi, disaster relief operations are being stretched to respond in the same fashion as in past disasters.

“We continue to face logistical challenges to operations in Louisiana and Mississippi and this is not uncommon at this stage of a disaster,” said Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization at the North American Mission Board. “We are working with the Red Cross and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Association] to address these situations.”

Burton said food, water and security continue to be major obstacles.

“The mass of this disaster, plus the road conditions, the heat and the trauma continue to exasperate our efforts,” Burton said. “However, it has not quenched our resolve. Our volunteers are committed to complete this task and to help the people who are hurting, even under these extraordinary conditions.”

Donations to assist relief efforts continue to pour in. More than $800,000 in funds earmarked for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has been received to assist with ongoing relief efforts following Katrina.

The number of mobile Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units has increased to 130, including 38 feeding units. Southern Baptist volunteers also are manning two American Red Cross kitchens and two Salvation Army kitchens.

Following is the latest information about where Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units or operations have been activated in Louisiana and Mississippi:

Louisiana -– Louisiana Baptist Convention and Horseshoe Drive Baptist Church, Alexandria; Florida Boulevard Baptist Church, Jefferson Baptist Church and Oakcrest Baptist Church, Salvation Army, Baton Rouge; First Baptist Church, Bogalusa; First Baptist Church, Covington; Woodland Park Baptist Church, Hammond; Veterans Parkway, Kenner; Cajun Dome, Lafayette; Fellowship Baptist Church, Prairieville; Eule Landry Middle School, Hahnville.

Mississippi -– First Baptist Church, Biloxi; Camp Garaway, Clinton; First Baptist Church, Columbia; Gautier; Main Street Baptist Church and Salvation Army, Hattiesburg; First Baptist Church, Laurel; Salvation Army, Long Beach; First Baptist Church, Lucedale; First Baptist Church, McComb; Magee; First Baptist Church, Meridian; First Baptist Church, Pascagoula; First Baptist Church, Picayune; Prentiss; Tylertown Baptist Church, Tylertown; Wiggins.

Other units are located in Mobile, Ala., and Carrolton, Ga.

In Houston, meanwhile, Gibbie McMillan, mission services associate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, has been appointed by NAMB to serve as incident commander over all of the feeding units providing meals for refugees at the Houston Astrodome.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief -– the third largest volunteer relief organization in the United States -– prepares the majority of meals distributed through the American Red Cross in a disaster. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has more than 600 mobile disaster response units and 30,000 trained volunteers. State Baptist conventions recruit and train volunteers from Southern Baptist churches. NAMB coordinates multi-state and international responses by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

Contributions to offset direct costs of the disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to the North American Mission Board. NAMB contributions may be made online at www.namb.net/dr or mailed to the North American Mission Board, Box 116543, Atlanta, Ga., 30368-6543. A new toll free number, 1 888 571-5895, has been set up for donations.

Donations to the Domestic Hunger Fund may be made at www.namb.net/hunger or by calling 770-410-6360. By specifying “Katrina Hunger Relief” funds donated will go directly to states affected by Katrina.

Concerning the logistical problems in the early disaster relief deployment, Tommy Puckett, disaster relief coordinator for the Alabama State Board of Missions, reported that, “Early in the Biloxi effort, on Thursday and perhaps into Friday, there apparently have been some problems with the delivery of larger quantities of water and ice. These problems will almost certainly have been resolved before the weekend.

“… [T]hese kinds of problems are not uncommon in the first stages of a disaster response, Puckett said. “Sometimes water and ice will arrive sooner rather than later, but in a disaster like Hurricane Katrina the initial difficulties in the delivery of resources should be expected.”

Rick Lance, executive director for the Alabama mission board, added, “We are grateful for the FEMA and the American Red Cross which deliver water, ice and -– for that matter -– food, but they have obviously had some early challenges in delivering massive quantities of basic necessities. The word we have is that this problem will be resolved quickly.”

In the Baton Rouge area, volunteers with the Southern Baptists of Texas helped staff a Salvation Army kitchen and joined in daily trips to the outskirts of New Orleans with Salvation Army canteen food trucks.

During the first such outing Aug. 31, the canteen ran out of food quickly, Bill Davenport, SBTC disaster relief director, recounted. The team was delayed briefly from returning to Baton Rouge after angry refugees began rocking the canteen truck. Davenport said the workers returned unnerved but safe.

“They were literally fighting outside the canteen when the food ran out,” Davenport told the Southern Baptist TEXAN by phone Sept. 1. That incident was the exception, he said.

Davenport said food donated by wholesale grocers arrived Sept. 1 and that SBTC workers would begin preparing and serving it at the Salvation Army post in Baton Rouge while continuing daily runs toward New Orleans.

One SBTC team took a milk truck full of water and food to Kenner, La., a New Orleans suburb, on Sept. 1 and planned to return with blankets, clothing and hygiene products the next day. Davenport said Kenner’s mayor called him to thank the SBTC and Salvation Army for their help.

“Today was the first outside help they have seen since the hurricane [three days earlier],” Davenport said.

“I’ve had several middle- and upper-level Salvation Army officials say they have never seen anything like the Baptists,” Davenport said “They were taken aback by the spirit of our guys and their willingness to go above and beyond in a difficult circumstance.”
Keith Hinson of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and Jerry Piece of the Southern Baptist TEXAN contributed to this report.

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  • Tim Yarbrough