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Disaster relief: Baptists help form multi-faceted partnership

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — When Superstorm Sandy approached the northeast coast last October, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders temporarily set up a command center in Harrisburg, Pa., as they awaited landfall.

The North American Mission Board, which coordinates SBDR multi-state responses, quickly began to facilitate Southern Baptists’ part of the large-scale relief effort for the hard-hit coast through its partnerships with Baptist state conventions; local, state and federal governments; the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army; and key corporations.

To effectively respond in times of crisis, partnerships must be formed in advance.

“You can’t wait and do it in the chaos of the moment,” said Fritz Wilson, SBDR executive director. “We have a network in place that I can go to immediately as quickly as we know what is happening.”

Based on requests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Wilson discussed with several state Baptist DR leaders the deployment of all Baptist conventions east of the Rockies.

Several states, including Oklahoma, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina, deployed volunteer units immediately. Eventually, 25 state conventions deployed SBDR teams, making it one of the largest responses since Hurricane Katrina.

Both the New York and New Jersey state conventions reached out to NAMB to coordinate the response, akin to most large-scale disasters when affected states request assistance. Wilson said because of the strong partnerships within SBDR, which includes volunteers from all 42 state conventions and Canada, Southern Baptists are able to respond to disasters anywhere in the world through NAMB, the International Mission Board and Baptist Global Response.

North Carolina disaster relief director Gayland Moss, whose team was asked by New Jersey Baptists through NAMB to manage the response there, agreed that partnership is crucial to effective disaster response.

“Our national partner [NAMB] has a national footprint,” Moss said. “They have national relationships and can create a framework with any state.”

Federal and state government

FEMA administrator Craig Fugate is among those who have underscored SBDR’s role as a primary partner in disaster relief. “Until people are back in their homes,” Fugate said during the initial Sandy response, “Southern Baptist [volunteers] will be needed.”

Michael Whitehead, the Florida Department of Emergency Management’s mass care coordinator, echoed the need for strong partnerships and preparedness.

“Regardless of the forecast, we have to get ready for a major hurricane to hit southeast Florida,” Whitehead said. “People in the state of Florida and the governor expect a world-class disaster response every single time. The key to success in the state is that we work together as a team with nonprofits and the private sector when responding to disasters.”

In Florida, for example, the state gives logistical support to field kitchens by providing hand-washing stations, port-o-potties, dumpsters, ice and water trucks and other resources for the sites. In May, Florida hosted a National Mass Care exercise for a second year. Florida Baptists set up a feeding kitchen at the exercise, with SBDR team members working with many of their national partners.

Working with trained organized volunteer groups like SBDR, the American Red Cross (ARC) and The Salvation Army (TSA) is a big advantage, Whitehead said, noting, “They can come into a very austere environment and can operate.”

Nonprofit partners

As one of the three largest disaster relief volunteer organizations in the nation, with 82,000 trained volunteers and a fleet of 1,550 mobile units, Southern Baptists serve following nearly every disaster, Wilson said. ARC and TSA are the other two large-scale volunteer entities.

For more than 25 years, Baptists have worked with ARC on the national and local level. The partnership primarily involves disaster feeding operations but also includes other services. NAMB deploys representatives to the ARC’s Disaster Operations Center in Washington, D.C., to help coordinate major responses.

ARC mass care director Katherine Galifianakis said the collaboration has grown over the years as both organizations refined their relationship. Both are members of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and the National Mass Care Council. In addition, ARC representatives attend SBDR Round Table meetings where they network with state directors and volunteers. Being on a first-name basis with her Baptist partners helps, Galifianakis noted.

“On the scale that we need to provide 100,000-plus meals, we couldn’t do the feeding without Southern Baptists, period,” Galifianakis said. “It goes beyond the partnership to a deep friendship. It’s trust and respect of one another’s mission.” SBDR mobile feeding kitchens generally prepare most of the meals that ARC Emergency Relief Vehicles (ERVs) deliver to disaster survivors.

TSA, working with SBDR on a local and national level, also partners to provide mass feedings, with Jeff Jellets, disaster coordinator for TSA’s Southern Territory, noting, “When it comes to feeding, when we need to produce a lot of meals in a short time frame in a large disaster, we always go to Southern Baptists” for SBDR-prepared meals to help stock TSA mobile canteens that go out into affected areas.

Jellets said the relationship has grown from a state-by-state partnership to a national one, taking off after working together during 9/ll. SBDR and TSA volunteers partnered at a site in Staten Island when the two groups cared for emergency workers hauling debris from the site.

One of the newest partners with SBDR is Dignity U Wear, a nonprofit organization founded by Henri Landwirth. Dignity U Wear partnered with Southern Baptists this year to provide new clothing to survivors of the Oklahoma City-area tornados and the Colorado Springs-area wildfires. Dignity U Wear focuses on procuring new clothing and delivering it at the right time to people for whom it will make the most difference.

Corporate partnerships

Wilson said that corporate partners, like US Foods, are critical in meeting supply needs. US Foods and SBDR work together to provide service to ARC for its mass feeding during disasters, including ordering and delivery systems.

Christy Foley, US Foods director of national sales support, said the company designed menus around Southern Baptists’ food preparation and best practices for feeding. They assist SBDR with ordering food for the initial six-day disaster menus that mobile kitchens carry into responses. The partnerships connect kitchen leaders with the company’s divisions in placing food orders. “Without that alignment and partnership,” Foley said, “we wouldn’t be able to provide the great service.”

Fiberlock Technologies is another example of corporate partnership, Wilson said, recounting that the company donated enough of its disinfectant cleaner, ShockWave, during Sandy recovery efforts to sanitize 17 million square feet in mold remediation work in damaged properties.

The 30-year-old company began offering its expertise and assistance to SBDR recovery efforts prior to Katrina. “It’s a feel-good partnership,” said Cole Stanton, Fiberlock Technologies’ executive vice president. “We like the tenacity, too, that months after [the initial response, SBDR is] still there.”


The partnership that ultimately propels Southern Baptist relief is the one with volunteers, Wilson reminded.

“We have folks who will drop and go at a moment’s notice,” he said. “They will go and continue to serve for a length of time to help people rebuild their lives. Volunteers from each of our state conventions are really the ones who keep all of this going. We are blessed to have the best.”
Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board. To learn more about SBDR visit namb.net/dr. Watch a video of American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern discussing SBDR cooperation at namb.net/video/redcrossmcgovern. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Laura Sikes