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City’s mission centers meet post-Ike needs

HOUSTON (BP)–Right after Hurricane Ike ripped through Houston — knocking down trees, leaving stoplights dangling at car-door level and pitching 3 million residents in the dark — the bright teal-blue Dodge pick-up truck started showing up in inner-city neighborhoods.

Hard to miss, the Baptist Mission Centers truck became an instant hit in downtown Houston neighborhoods because folks knew it meant local Southern Baptists were there to help.

“After Ike, every time we got a new donation of food or water, we immediately jumped in our truck and delivered it through the neighborhoods,” said Ginger Smith, the centers’ executive director for the past six years.

“People were desperate for food, water and ice — especially those with small children who also needed milk.”

Baptist Mission Centers in Houston consist of three facilities: the Gano Mission Center and administrative offices on Gano Street, the Fletcher Mission Center on Fletcher Street and Joy Fellowship Center on Avenue F. All three centers offer similar ministries -– programs for babies to senior adults; after-school programs for children, pre-teens and teens; classes for English as a second language; Christian Women’s Job Corps and other adult programs; and food and clothes.

Smith said after Ike, the centers had to distribute foodstuffs quickly because, like most of downtown Houston, the three Baptist mission centers themselves were without power for 10 days after Ike’s Sept. 13 landfall. Some $3,000 worth of food already stored in the centers’ pantry freezers and refrigerators was thawing quickly.

The centers gave away their existing stock of food in only two days. Even though local residents had no gas or electricity for cooking, Smith said they welcomed the donated food because most had grills on which to cook.

Smith and her team also started calling around to get precious ice for residents. Bellview Baptist Church in Westlake, La., came through, donating a truckload of ice and bottled water.

“We knew most of our neighborhood people near the centers had not evacuated because of transportation and money issues,” Smith said. “Before the hurricane, we were already ministering to an impoverished community in need of food and clothing. So when the disaster hit, the level of need was still there, but now even greater.”

Isolated in the heart of blacked-out Houston -– and without much gasoline — Smith said neither she nor the people she ministers to could travel to the FEMA “pods” or Southern Baptist feeding stations located miles from the city center where electricity was available.

Eventually, the Red Cross began delivering 10,000 hot meals to inner-city Houston, prepared by the Southern Baptist disaster relief feeding kitchens based at Houston’s First Baptist Church, located in the western suburbs of the city. Trinity Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, also came into the inner city, bringing in meals of homemade pasta, fresh baked goods, fruit and more ice. The church also brought clean clothes since residents had no water or electricity for washing for a week.

Smith said the Baptist Mission Centers are now about 90 percent back to normal. Two of the centers, Joy Center and Fletcher Street, suffered only minor water and wind damage.

“Everyone has their power back,” she said. “We still have hungry people in the neighborhoods but there were hungry people there before the hurricane.

“Our gymnasium at the Joy Center now has skylights,” Smith joked, adding that finding roofing contractors to repair the damage has been difficult. “We’re trying to get back into our regular mode but we haven’t been able to replenish our pantries because we gave out all the food we had.”

A former 18-year staff member at Baptist Mission Centers, Ruth Piper, who retired back in May and moved to Galveston, lost everything in Hurricane Ike except what she evacuated with, Smith said, adding, “We’re trying to raise support for her and help her get back on her feet.”

Smith said those who would like to donate to help Piper or to replace the Baptist Mission Centers’ in-house food supply can do so by accessing the center’s website at www.bmchouston.org.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To donate to Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts, call toll-free 866-407-6262 or visit www.namb.net.

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  • Mickey Noah