NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief feeding units are in place more than 24 hours ahead of schedule, with plans to begin no later than Saturday serving 225,000 meals a day in Louisiana and Mississippi.
One site where long-term DR efforts will not be needed is New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, which sustained less than $300,000 in damage from Hurricane Isaac, according to initial estimates.
Nevertheless, SBDR’s readiness to help in feeding, cleanup, chaplaincy and childcare for the victims of Isaac, which struck on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, is a true picture of Christian service, said Tom Long, the southeast region coordinator for Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief.
“I think this truly shows what the Great Commission is all about as far as reaching out to our own communities in our area,” Long said. “Then the support we have as Southern Baptists from all across our convention, the gathering together of our workers and teams, has been tremendous. No matter what kind of problem may come up, we’re able to respond and respond quickly.”
The response adds to the goodwill Southern Baptists planted during Katrina and other disasters.
“We were able to go to the governor of Louisiana and tell him that we were already set up and onsite earlier than what they expected,” Long said. “We’re ready to go and do the work that is needed to be done. That was a very impressive thing for him to know, that we could gather our forces together and our people and be on site and set up as quickly as we could. That meant a lot. It said a lot about Southern Baptists and the work we’re doing.”
Southern Baptist volunteers from eight state conventions have been mobilized to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, just two days after Isaac made landfall in the Gulf as a category 1 storm. Flooding has been a major problem.
The death toll in the U.S. climbed to four after the bodies of a man and woman were found in Braithwaite, La., and risk-modeling firm AIG estimates the hurricane may cost insurers as much as $2 billion, according to news reports.
As many as 34 SBDR feeding and recovery units are expected to be in place and operational by Saturday evening, SBDR officials said. An Oklahoma Baptist feeding unit in Westwego and a Mississippi Baptist unit set up at First Baptist Church of Long Beach, Miss., should be the first ones to distribute food, either Friday evening or Saturday.
The Incident Command has been set up at First Baptist Church of Covington, La., with Terry Henderson of Texas Baptist Men serving as incident commander.
The North American Mission Board’s two 60,000-pound Freightliner rigs loaded with roofing supplies have reached the Gulfport Baptist Association offices in Mississippi. One of the supply loads will remain for use in Mississippi; the other is on its way to Slidell, La.
Long notes that the worst flooding was around Lake Pontchartrain and low-lying areas between there and the interstate, where some mud-out work will need to be done. But, he added, the area is “blessed that we didn’t have any more damage than we did.”
Long says a few chainsaw units have been involved in cleanup today [Aug. 31] near New Orleans, but the requests for help have been light. He expects, as teams get into the communities, the number of help requests will increase. Louisiana has other units on standby for use as needed, Long said.
Isaac, now downgraded to a tropical depression, is headed north through Arkansas and into the central U.S.
Because of the Southern Baptist Convention’s long history of disaster relief in Louisiana, SBDR has been invited to participate in relief efforts by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparation for Louisiana.
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates and manages 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, credentialed disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including 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 contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund via 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.”
Tobin Perry is a writer with the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).