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48 hours after Georges’ landfall, Baptists were cooking in a big way

MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–Hardly 48 hours after Hurricane Georges sopped its way through the Gulf Coast, Alabama Baptists were cooking and in a big way.
As early as 3 p.m. Sept. 30, two Alabama Baptist disaster relief units began food preparation for those affected by the storm in southern Mobile and Baldwin counties. The unit assigned to the Mobile area, stated at Springhill Baptist Church, prepared 450 meals on the afternoon of Sept. 30. Within 30 minutes, the Red Cross had served 300 meals prepared by Baptist disaster relief in Bayou LaBatre in southern Mobile County.
On Oct. 1, the Baptist volunteers cooked 3,000 meals. The number rose to 4,300 Oct. 2. By Oct. 5, the Mobile unit alone had prepared a total of 16,950 meals. Working in conjunction with the American Red Cross, the Baptist relief units prepare the meals and the Red Cross delivers the meals in Emergency Relief Vehicles.
Aside from the supplies to prepare 7,000 meals kept on hand by the feeding unit deployed in Mobile, the Red Cross also provides the food for the relief effort. Reggie Quimby, director of disaster relief for the Alabama Baptist State Convention, described the partnership as “most effective.”
The morning hours of Oct. 5 in Mobile displayed 12 ERV’s lined up to receive food prepared by the relief teams. Days of work still lie ahead for both teams in Mobile and Foley, Ala.
Sponsored by the ABSC and based in Birmingham, the disaster feeding unit deployed in Mobile is a 45-foot moving van-type rig capable of preparing 10,000 meals or more per day. It can be operated as a central kitchen supporting Red Cross ERV’s, as a feeding line operation or both simultaneously.
The feeding unit is equipped with a 25-kilowatt diesel generator with enough fuel for 24 hours and a communications system with cellular phone, ham radio and CB.
Other equipment includes six portable HiBTU propane burners with up to 80-quart pots; two rice cookers, capable of preparing 100 servings each in 35 minutes and four full-tray, steam tables.
A typical deployment of an eight- to 10-person delivery team moves the unit to the disaster location and places it into operational mode. The operational team has a minimum of 12 members and usually works in three-day shifts.
The Alabama state board of missions deploys the unit after concurring with the need assessment of state and national disaster agencies. The operation and maintenance of the feeding unit and the training of operational and delivery crews is assigned to the state’s brotherhood department.
The unit in Foley is funded by the Morgan Baptist Association and has a food preparation capacity and equipment complement comparable to its state convention counterpart.
While the state convention unit requires a semi-truck for deployment, the Morgan unit consists of a customized bus and trailer capable of immediate dispatch to the disaster site.
After its deployment to Enterprise for victims of Hurricane Opal in 1995, the state convention’s disaster relief unit prepared 54,405 meals in 15 days. During those two weeks, Southern Baptist disaster relief units prepared almost 111,000 meals.
After the severe tornadoes struck Concord near Birmingham, feeding units were on site for 18 days and prepared more than 41,000 meals. Through April 1998, the feeding unit had operated 174 days and prepared almost 373,000 meals.
The disaster relief units are not confined to emergencies in Alabama, however.
Red Cross worker Karla Comeaux from Grace Community Baptist Church in northern Alabama recalled the first time she worked with Baptist disaster relief in the Caribbean’s St. Croix. “I walked into the kitchen and felt a little more at home. The Baptist volunteers were cooking grits.”
The current relief teams on hand near the coast include groups of volunteers from the Birmingham, Elmore, Morgan and Madison county areas.
Quimby commended all of the volunteers for their selfless efforts. “These men left their home areas very early on Wednesday morning [Sept. 30] to head for the Mobile-Foley area, where they look forward to serving others just as Jesus would do.”
According to the state board of missions office, a group of other Baptist volunteers from across Alabama will assist in the relief efforts in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
“These people will bring in chainsaws and help remove fallen trees, clean up debris and do temporary patch work on roofs” as well as other types of disaster assistance, Quimby noted.
Hitting the southeastern United States after a deadly eight-day journey across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Georges slowed to a crawl after crashing ashore just before 4 a.m. Monday, Sept. 28, near Biloxi, Miss. The 174-mph wind gusts and as much as 20 inches of rain that hit the southern Mississippi area managed to dump sheets of driving rain on Alabama as well.
The hurricane claimed at least 320 lives as it crossed the eastern Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the Florida Keys.
Early reports were sketchy about possible damage to churches in Alabama and Mississippi.
John Long, director of missions for Baldwin Baptist Association, where an estimated 80 percent of residents were without power after the strike, said the afternoon of Sept. 28, “As far as I know most of the churches have not received too much damage.” Some had shingles blown off and some had some water damage, he noted. However, as of Monday afternoon Long had not heard from most of the churches on the Gulf Shores island. “I’ve heard that First Baptist, Gulf Shores, is OK, but I haven’t heard from the other churches on the island,” he noted Sept. 28.
Mike Anderson, director of missions at the Mobile Baptist Association, said he had not heard from his churches that day. “I called a lot of the pastors on Sunday, and they were doing fine,” Anderson said.

Reported by Terry Kilpatrick & Jennifer Davis Rash.