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Calif. volunteers expand meal preparations

FRESNO, Calif. (BP)–California Southern Baptists are stepping up their efforts to minister during firestorms in Southern California.

A fourth California Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief mobile kitchen has been activated to a third site where volunteers have been working since Oct. 22. The unit will be set up in Ramona, “ground zero” for one of the worst of the approximately two dozen fires. The unit is expected to begin operation Tuesday, Oct. 30, and provide up to 16,000 meals per day for victims and emergency workers.

Volunteers from Arizona and the Northwest Baptist conventions are scheduled to provide assistance at the new site. Don Hargis, CSBC disaster relief director, said the effort should last about seven days, until the city’s water supply is back online.

Two other CSBC kitchen units are stationed at PETCO Park in San Diego and continue to provide meals; volunteers from Nevada are working alongside California Southern Baptists there. A third unit is set up at the San Bernardino Fairgrounds.

According to the North American Mission Board, which oversees Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, more than 43,000 meals have been provided since operations began. More than 2,700 structures were destroyed in the fires, including some 2,000 homes.

With more than a dozen fires fully surrounded, firefighters were pushing to complete lines around seven others. Containment of those blazes ranged from 50 percent to 97 percent, according to msnbc.com Oct. 29.

Southern Baptists also are expected to have a “presence at nine FEMA ‘information centers,'” Hargis noted. The centers will be set up throughout Southern California to provide assistance for victims, including information about Southern Baptists’ clean-up ministry.

As of Oct. 29, the clean-up effort is on “hold,” according to Hargis, though heavy equipment already is being sought to prepare for cleaning out debris from houses burned in the fires. Items needed include backhoes, front-end skid-loaders and excavators. During the 2003 Southern California fires, California Southern Baptists helped clean some 600 homes, Hargis reported.

“We need donated or loaned equipment like backhoes, front-end skid-loaders and excavators to do things like take down chimneys as we clean up homes all across Southern California,” Hargis said.

“This is something we can do to help families already are in crisis and who don’t need to worry about the expense of having their lots cleaned. This is another way we can say to the people of Southern California that God loves and cares for them. Our actions speak much louder than our words,” he said.

Cleaning a lot is a very involved process, Hargis said. “We just don’t go in and pick up the ashes. It’s much more complicated than that. We leave what the homeowner wants to be left, and that’s usually just a concrete slab. We have to collect and cut up all the home’s metal and put it in dumpsters. We have to double-bag hazardous materials like asbestos.”

Hargis said crews even go in first and sift ashes to find any of the family’s jewelry or coins that may have survived the fire.

Persons interested in donating or loaning equipment such as backhoes, front-end skid-loaders and excavators should contact CSBC Disaster Relief by e-mailing Cathy Glover in Hargis’ office at [email protected] or by calling (559) 229-9533, ext. 255. Trained disaster relief volunteers interested in serving should contact Renee McKinley at [email protected] Others interested in volunteering can contact Glover.

Donations for disaster relief may be made at www.csbc.com or by mailing checks to CSBC at 678 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno CA 93710. Hargis said the need for funds is critical.

Fermín Whittaker, executive director of the California convention, confirmed the daunting task ahead, but emphasized not all the needs were material.

“This is a massive cleanup effort and we hope to get the word out to as many people as possible,” Whittaker said. “We need all the help we can get and the more people praying for us the better.”
Holly Smith is managing editor of the California Southern Baptist, newsjournal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. He leads the communications group for the CSBC.

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