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2018 relief efforts still need volunteers

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — The calendar has turned to a New Year, but hundreds of people in the Southeast continue picking up the pieces following the massive storms that hit the region in 2018.

“It’s January, and there are still areas that look like a tornado hit yesterday,” said Delton Beall, the state disaster relief director for the Florida Baptist Convention.

Churches and college students still have numerous opportunities to serve those in need. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams in Florida and North Carolina and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) continue offering help, hope and healing to those who endured Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

Tom Beam, a student mobilization consultant with North Carolina’s Baptists on Mission, has been helping coordinate the volunteer response since Florence hit North Carolina in September 2018.

“I tell people that the hurricane left in six days, but we’re still right in the middle of it,” Beam said. “I’d dare say that, in North Carolina, [Hurricane Florence] is the worst disaster we’ve ever had.”

In Florida, SBDR credentialed and non-credentialed volunteers served throughout December and are expected to continue until the end of January performing recovery work, operating chainsaws, removing debris and gutting storm-damaged homes.

“The recovery efforts have been phenomenal with the numbers of people we’ve had come from all over the [nation],” Beall said. “The outpouring of love and support is very heart-warming and encouraging.”

Beall, a resident of Panama City, Fla., described the new perspective he received as a survivor of Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in October 2018 on the Florida Panhandle.

Survivors carry the weight of remembering “what used to be,” Beall said. So, when volunteers come, they have a chance to be a source of healing and comfort for those still struggling with the aftermath of the destruction of their beloved neighborhood.

“We’ve seen a lot of opportunity to minister the Gospel to people,” he said. “Not only has the wind rearranged our world, but a lot of doors have been opened that were closed for ministry.”

In North Carolina, the response has transitioned from recovery, in which the focus was on clearing out debris and repairing minor storm damage, to the rebuilding phase: restoring and repairing homes so homeowners can move back in. North Carolina Baptists plan to set up “rebuilding hubs” where they will manage the long-term response.

For disaster relief opportunities in Florida and North Carolina, church leaders and volunteers can check with their state conventions or visit namb.net/southern-baptist-disaster-relief/ to connect with disaster relief leaders in those states and find ways to volunteer or donate.

Collegiate service opportunities

NAMB will be supporting SBDR efforts in Florida and North Carolina by coordinating service opportunities for college students through its Send Relief compassion ministry arm. College students can serve disaster relief areas through numerous crisis response mission trips via GenSend. The opportunities are set up so that students can serve during Spring Break.

“These opportunities allow students to serve very strategic needs that are unmet,” said Susan Peugh, volunteer coordinator for Send Relief.

College students interested in serving in disaster settings or other short- or long-term opportunities can visit www.SendRelief.org/GenSend for more information, to volunteer or to donate. The deadline for long-term summer 2019 service is March 1.