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Baptist church shows holiday spirit by helping tornado victims

AUGUSTA, Ga. (BP)–Residents of this east Georgia city are showing their holiday spirit this week as they rally to aid victims of a tornado that leveled 15 homes south of the city and damaged about 70 others on Dec. 17.

Meanwhile, James Merritt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church Snellville, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has issued a call to prayer for victims of the Georgia and Alabama tornadoes.

Twelve people were killed, dozens injured and three Baptist churches were heavily damaged when twisters touched down in Alabama on Dec. 16.

“Obviously, Southern Baptists are a family,” Merritt said. “When one part of the body hurts, the entire body hurts. I feel the great sense of loss and pain for our church families in Alabama.”

“Southern Baptists always respond to our brothers and sisters in need and I offer my condolences and prayers to the families of those who lost loved ones,” Merritt added.

Leading the Georgia relief effort are agencies and churches like Augusta’s First Baptist of Gracewood.

In addition to acting as the central depository for cash donations, clothes, household items, nonperishable food, blankets and pledges of larger items such as appliances and furniture, members of the church also were looking to replace Christmas gifts blown away by the storm, along with decorated Christmas trees.

“If the gifts are wrapped, we’re asking donors to write whether they’re for a boy or girl and the age of the child it’s meant for,” said church member Jerry Jenkins. “But people don’t need to bring Christmas trees because the victims don’t have a home to put them in.”

He said church member Diana Bliss lost her mobile home to the twister.

“All she has left of a lifetime’s worth of possessions is stored in a little corner of a room here at the church,” Jenkins said. “It’s really sad.”

The tornado, with winds of up to 150 mph, carved a five-mile swath through south Richmond County, accompanying the severe thunderstorms that swept through east Georgia on Sunday afternoon. A 5-year-old boy hospitalized with injuries was listed in fair condition Tuesday.

The same storm system blew devastating tornadoes through west Alabama, destroying scores of homes and killing 11 people in Tuscaloosa County. Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. has donated $500,000 to help with the relief effort.

In Augusta, ongoing cleanup efforts Tuesday were hampered by rain and sleet, said Tara O’Neal of the Richmond County Emergency Management Agency.

The Red Cross Augusta chapter, which is accepting financial donations for the victims, is housing several families in an area motel, O’Neal said.

“Many victims are staying with their families or friends,” she said.

The Red Cross can accept only financial donations. Checks should be made payable to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, 1322 Ellis St., Augusta, GA 30901.

First Baptist Church of Gracewood, 3633 Peach Orchard Road, Augusta, GA 30901, is accepting money and other goods.

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