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Disaster relief at their doorstep

CORNING, Ark. (BP)–The Current-Gaines Baptist Association in Arkansas unveiled a new disaster relief feeding unit last year to help those affected by Mother Nature’s fury.

They never dreamed they would be the first victims.

“We sure didn’t expect this,” association missionary Don Settles said of his community that was hard hit by a massive ice storm that slammed north Arkansas in late January. “This is home. What better place to help those in need, but at home.”

Within hours following the storm, Settles and a few volunteers began providing hot meals to area residents outside the associational office building in Corning. A few days later, the operation moved to the area community center, a Red Cross storm shelter.

By Feb. 4, nearly 200 volunteers were preparing and serving more than 1,800 meals a day for victims, city officials and National Guard members. At press time, the meal count stood at more than 12,000.

“I am very thankful for their [Baptists’] help,” said Eloise Cravins, as he and his wife Sarah waited in the makeshift drive-in to receive a hot meal. “This is wonderful.”

The elderly couple, who live about five miles from Corning near the rural Reyno community, lost power Jan. 27 and are using a wood fireplace to keep warm. Some speculate their area could be without power for weeks.

“It means a lot that people are helping us,” Cravins said. “This is a really good thing they are doing for us.”

Joining the Baptist volunteers were numerous members of local Methodist, Church of Christ and Lutheran congregations.

Local volunteer Mark Ahrent said the feeding unit was “invaluable” to many in his community who are in a crisis situation.

“This feeding operation is really helping out, because we have some who have not been able to work for several days and so they are not drawing a paycheck,” Ahrent said. “If a free meal helps them save a little money so they can buy gas for a generator or propane for a heater, then what more can you say about such a ministry.”

Corning Mayor Dewayne Phelan also expressed his appreciation. “It is amazing what these volunteers can do,” Phelan said. “Who would have thought that a group of people that were prepared to go all over the United States to help victims of disaster would end up helping victims in their own town.”

One of the hardest-hit areas of the state, thousands of electrical poles were down throughout Clay County, with many rural roads impassable because of massive damage to fallen trees and electrical lines.

Much of Corning could remain in the dark until as late as Feb. 14, according to a Feb. 3 Entergy Arkansas press release.

Until then, Settles said volunteers will continue ministering to their fellow residents.

Prior to the storm, he said the disaster relief team was hoping for a chance to help others. “I told our volunteers to quit praying for a disaster,” he jokingly said. “This one got a little too close to home.”
Stella Prather is associate editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.

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